Skip to main content

Full text of "The red laugh : fragments of a dicovered manuscript : [a novel]"

See other formats


PG 

3452 
K86E 



A 
A 









cz 





^ 


1 


30 




3 
4 
4 




HON/ 





= 


7 


RAR 


7 


^^ 


2 


ACI 






7 






THE LIBRARY 

OF 

THE UNIVERSITY 

OF CALIFORNIA 

LOS ANGELES 



HEREDmUGIl 

BY щттршгш 




nM:TR§KerDi\wiR. 



A LIST OF BOO^ 



OX 



RUSSIA AND SIBERIA 



Published by . . , 

T. FISHER UNWIN 
II Paternoster Buildings, London, E.G. 



HISTORY, DESCRIPTION, ETC. 
Travels оГ a Naturalist in Northern Europe. By 

J. A. Harvie-Brown, F.R.S.E., F.Z.S., Author of "Fauna of 
the Moray J^sin," "A Vertebrate Fauna of Orkney," etc., etc. 
With 4 Maps and many Illustrations. 2 vols. Royal 8vo, cloth. 
£-i, 3s. net. 

Limited E ' ion. Uniform with " Fauna of the Moray Basin. " 

Siberia : A iecord of Travel, Exploration, and 
Climbing. у Samuel Turner. With loo Illustrations and 
2 Maps. Г ■ у 8vo, cloth. 2 is. net. 

Russia Undek the Great Shadow. By Luigi Villari, 

Author of "Giovanni Segantini," "Italian Life in Town and 
Country," etc. With 85 Illustrations. Second Impression. 
Demy 8vo, cloth. los. 6d. net. 

Tourgueneff and his French Circle. Edited by 
H. H\lperine-Kaminsky. Translated by Ethel M. Arnold. 
Cr. 8vo, cloth. 7s. 6d. 

The Peoples and Politics of the Far East. Travels 

and Studies in the British, French, Spanish, and Portuguese 
Colonies, Siberia, China, Japan, Korea, Siam, and Malaya. By 
Henry Norman, B.A., M.P. With many Illustrations. Sixth 
Impression. Small demy 8vo, cloth. 7s. 6d. 

Poland. By W. R. Morfill, M.A., Professor of Russian 

and Slavonic Languages in the University of Oxford. Third 
Impression. With 50 Illustrations and Maps. (Story of the 
Nations. Vol. 33.) Large cr. Svo, cloth. 5s. 

Russia. By W. R. Morfill, M.A. Fourth Edition. 
With 60 Illustrations and Maps. (Story of the Nations. Vol. 23. ) 
Large cr. Svo, cloth. 5s. 
War Edition. Brought up to date and with Supplementary Chapters 
on the Present Situation, and Large War Map. Cloth. 5s. 



London : T. FISHER UNWIN 



A List of Books on Russia and Siberia — continued 

The Memoirs and Travels of Count de Benyowsky 

in Siberia, Kamtschatka, Japan, the Liukiu Islands, and Formosa. 
Edited by Captain S. P. Oliver, R.A. Illustrated. Cr. Svo, 
cloth. 3s. 6d. 

The Grand Duchy of Finland. By the author of "A 
Visit to the Russians." Cr. Svo, cloth, with Map, 2s. 6d. net. 

FICTION 

Three Dukes. A Novel of Russian Life. By G. 
YsTRlDDE. (Unwin's Red Cloth Library.) Cr. Svo, cloth. 6s. 

The Watcher on the Tower. A Story of Napoleon's 
Invasion of Russia. By A. G. Hales. (Unwin's Red Cloth 
Library.) Cr. Svo, cloth. 6s. 

Finnish Legends. Adapted by R. Eivind. Illustrated 
from the Finnish text. (Children's Libraiy). Fcap. Svo, cloth 
2S. 6d. 

IN THE PSEUDONYM LIBRARY 

Cloth, 2s. ; Paper, is. 6d. 

Mademoiselle Ixe. By Lanoe Falconer. 

Makar's Dream, and other Russian Stories. By 

V. KOROLENKO. 

A Saghalien Convict. By V. Korolenko. 
Squire Hellman. By Juhani Aho. 
A Russian Priest. By J. Potapenko. 
The General's Daughter. By J. Potapenko. 
A Father of Six. By J. Potapenko. 

BY MAXIM GORKY 

Crown Svo, cloth, Is. net. 
Foma Gordyeeff. Unabridged. 
The Outcasts, and Other Stories. 
Three of Them. 



The Red Laugh. By Leonidas Andreief. Paper 

cover, IS. HL't. 

The China Cup, and Other Stories. By Felix 

VOLKIIOVSKV. Illustrated by Malischeff. (Children's Library). 
Illustrated. Fcap. Svo, decorated binding, is. 



London: T. FISHER UNWIN. 



THE RED LAUGH 



NOVELS BY AAXIA GORKY 


Bound in с loth, IS. net. each 


THREE OF THEM - - 


(22nd Thousand) 


THE OUTCASTS . - 


(loth Thousand) 


THE MAN WHO WAS 




AFRAID .... 


(15th Thousand) 
I of the Russian 

By G. YSTRIDDK. 


THREE DUKES. A Nove 
Upper Classes of To-Day. 
Second Edition, 6s. 


T. FISHER UNWIN, 


London 



♦ 



^THE RED LAUGH,/ 

FRAGME^rS OF A DISCOVERED MANUSCRIPT 



BY 

LEONIDAS ANDREIEF 



Iranslated from t/ie Russian by Alexandra Linden 



LONDON 

T. FISHER UNWIN 

PATERNOSTER SQUARE 
1905 



Protected under the Berne Convention in accordance with 
Article III. as modified by tlie Paris additional Act o/ 
May 4, 1896. 






PREFACE 



Leonidas Andreief, the author of T^e Red 
Laugh and of some volumes of short stories, 
was born at Orel in 1871. He studied first 
at the college of his own town, then at St 
Petersburg University. As a student at St 
Petersburg, he made a miserable livelihood 
by giving infrequent lessons at wretched 
rates, and his first literary efforts belong to 
this period. His first short story, the sub- 
ject of which was, in fact, autobiographical 
— the sorry life of the poor student, always 
half starving — was derisively rejected. But 
he gained entry into an important St 
Petersburg review with another and charac- 
teristic short story. Silence^ and with it won 
the attention of the Russian literary world. 
Now his popularity in Russia almost transcends 
that of Gorky. Russian critics have said of 
Andreief, as Victor Hugo said of the author 
of the Fleurs du Mai, that he has "invented 



1 ^^"^4^0 



viii PREFACE 

a new thrill," and Andreief seems, indeed, to be 
most at home in a region of horror, though it is 
very much psychologised horror, a horror full 
of fine shades. The Red Laugh is a literary 
outcome of the late war in Manchuria ; it sets 
forth the anachronism of war as that anachron- 
ism is felt by a writer of genius. 

O. 



THE RED LAUGH 



PART I 
Fragment I 

Horror and madness. 

I felt it for the first time as we were march- 
ing along the road — marching incessantly for 
ten hours without stopping, never diminishing 
our step, never waiting to pick up those that 
had fallen, but leaving them to the enemy, 
that was moving behind us in a compact mass 
only three or four hours later effacing the 
m.arks of our feet by their own. 

It was very sultry. I do not know how 
many degrees there were — 120°, 140°, or more — 
I only know that the heat was incessant, hope- 
lessly even and profound. The sun was so 
enormous, so fiery and terrible, that it seemed 
as if the earth had drawn nearer to it and 
would soon be burnt up altogether in its 
merciless rays. Our eyes had ceased to look. 



2 THE RED LAUGH 

The small shrunk pupil, as small as a poppy- 
seed, sought in vain for darkness under the 
closed eyelid ; the sun pierced the thin cover- 
ing and penetrated into the tortured brain in a 
blood-red glow. But, nevertheless, it was 
better so : with closed eyelids, and for a long 
time, perhaps for several hours, I walked along 
with my eyes shut, hearing the multitude 
moving around me : the heavy, uneven tread 
of many feet, men's and horses, the grinding 
of iron wheels, crushing the small stones, 
somebody's deep strained breathing and the 
dry smacking of parched lips. But I heard no 
word. All were silent, as if an army of dumb 
people was moving, and when anyone fell 
down, he fell in silence ; others stumbled 
against his body, fell down and rose mutely, 
and, without turning their heads, marched on, 
as though these dumb men were also blind and 
deaf. I stumbled and fell several times and 
then involuntarily opened my eyes, and all 
that I saw seemed a wild fiction, the terrible 
raving of a mad world. The air vibrated at a 
white-hot temperature, the stones seemed to 
be trembling silently, ready to flow, and in the 
distance, at a curve of the road, the files of men, 
guns and horses seemed detached from the 
earth, and trembled like a mass of jelly in their 



THE RED LAUGH 3 

onward progress, and it seemed to me that they 
were not living people that I saw before me, 
but an army of incorporate shadows. 

The enormous, near, terrible sun lit up 
thousands of tiny blinding suns on every gun- 
barrel and metal plate, and these suns, as fiery- 
white and sharp as the white-hot points of the 
bayonets, crept into your eyes from every 
side. And the consuming, burning heat pene- 
trated into your body — into your very bones 
and brain — and at times it seemed to me that it 
was not a head that swayed upon my shoulders, 
but a strange and extraordinary globe, heavy and 
light, belonging to somebody else, and horrible. 

And then — then I suddenly remembered my 
home : a corner of my room, a scrap of light- 
blue wall-paper, and a dusty untouched water- 
bottle on my table — on my table, which has 
one leg shorter than the others, and had a small 
piece of paper folded under it. While in the 
next room — and I cannot see them — are my 
wife and little son. If I had had the power 
to cry out, I would have done so — so wonderful 
was this simple and peaceful picture — the scrap 
of light-blue wall-paper and dusty untouched 
water-bottle. I know that I stood still and 
lifted up my arms, but somebody gave me a 
push from behind, and I quickly moved on, 



4 THE RED LAUGH 

thrusting the crowd aside, and hastening whither 
I knew not, but feeling now neither heat nor 
fatigue. And I marched on thus for a long 
time through the endless mute files, past red 
sunburnt necks, almost touching the helplessly 
lowered hot bayonets, when suddenly the 
thought of what I was doing, whither I was 
hastening, stopped me. I turned aside in the 
same hasty way, forced my way to the open, 
clambered across a gulley and sat down on a 
stone in a preoccupied manner, as if that rough 
hot stone was the aim of all my strivings. 

And then I felt it for the first time. I 
clearly perceived that all these people, march- 
ing silently on in the glaring sun, torpid from 
fatigue and heat, swaying and falling — that they 
were all mad. They did not know whither 
they were going, they did not know what that 
sun was for, they did not know anything. It 
was not heads that they had on their shoulders, 
but strange and terrible globes. There — I saw 
a man in the same plight as I, pushing his way 
hurriedly through the rows and falling down ; 
there — another, and a third. Suddenly a 
horse's head appeared above the throng with 
bloodshot and senseless eyes and a wide-open 
grinning mouth, that only hinted at a terrible 
unearthly cry ; this head appeared, fell down, 



THE RED LAUGH 5 

and for an instant the crowd stopped, growing 
denser in that spot ; I could hear hoarse, hollow 
voices, then a shot, and again the silent end- 
less march continued. 

An hour passed as I sat on that stone, but 
the multitude still moved on past me, and the 
air and earth and the distant phantom-like ranks 
trembled as before. And agfain the burning^ 
heat pierced my body and I forgot what for 
an instant I had pictured to myself; and the 
multitudes moved on past me, but I did not 
know who they were. An hour ago I was alone 
on the stone, but now I was surrounded by a 
group of grey people : some lying motionless, 
perhaps dead; others were sitting up and staring 
vacantly at those passing by. Some had guns 
and resembled soldiers ; others were stripped 
almost naked, and the skin on their bodies was 
so livid, that one did not care to look at it. 
Not far from me someone was lying with his 
bared back upturned. 

One could see by the unconcerned manner 
in which he had buried his face in the sharp 
burning sand, by the whiteness of the palm of 
his upturned hand, that he was dead, but his 
back was as red as if he were alive, and only a 
slight yellowish tinge, like one sees on smoked 
meat, spoke of death. I wanted to move 



6 THE EED LAUGH 

away from him, but I had not the strength, 
and, tottering from weakness, I continued 
looking at the endless phantom-like swaying 
files of men. By the condition of my head I 
knew that I should soon have a sunstroke too, 
but I awaited it calmly, as in a dream, where 
death seems only a stage on the path of 
wonderful and confused visions. 

And I saw a soldier part from the crowd 
and direct his steps in a decided manner 
towards us. For an instant I lost sight of him 
in a ditch, but when he reappeared and moved 
on towards us, his gait was unsteady, and in his 
endeavours to control his restlessly tossing 
body, one felt he was using his last strength. 
He was coming so straight upon me that I 
grew frightened and, breaking through the 
heavy torpor that enveloped my brain, I 
asked : " What do you want ? " 

He stopped short, as if it was only a word 
that he was waiting for, and stood before me, 
enormous, bearded, in a torn shirt. He had 
no gun, his trousers hung only by one button, 
and through a slit in them one could see his 
white body. He flung his arms and legs 
about and he was visibly trying to control 
them, but could not : the instant he brought 
his arms together, they fell apart again. 



THE RED LAUGH 7 

''What is the matter ? You had better sit 
down," I said. 

But he continued standing, vainly trying to 
gather himself together, and stared at me in 
silence. Involuntarily I got up from the stone 
and, tottering, looked into his eyes — and saw 
an abyss of horror and insanity in them. 
Everybody's pupils were shrunk — but his had 
dilated and covered his whole eye : what 
a sea of fire he must have seen through those 
enormous black windows ! Maybe I had 
only imagined it, maybe in his look there was 
only death, — but no, I was not mistaken : in 
those black, bottomless pupils, surrounded by 
a narrow orange-coloured rim, like a bird's 
eye, there was more than death, more than 
the horror of death. " Go away ! " I cried, 
falling back. ^' Go away ! " And as if he was 
only waiting for a word, enormous, disorderly 
and mute as before, he suddenly fell down 
upon me, knocking me over. With a shudder 
I freed my legs from under him, jumped up 
and longed to run — somewhere away from 
men into the sunlit, unpeopled and quivering 
distance, when suddenly, on the left-hand side, 
a cannon boomed forth from a hill-top, and 
directly after it two others, like an echo. And 
somewhere above our beads a shell flew past 



8 THE RED LAUGH 

with a gladsome, many-voiced scr-e-e-ch and 
howl. 

We were outflanked. 

The murderous heat, fear and fatigue dis- 
appeared instantly. My thoughts cleared, 
my mind grew clear and sharp, and, when 
I ran up, out of breath, to the files of men 
drawing up, I saw serene, almost joyous faces, 
heard hoarse, but loud voices, orders, jokes. 
The sun seemed to have drawn itself up 
higher so as not to be in the way, and had 
grown dim and still — and again a shell, like a 
witch, cut the air with a gladsome scr-e-e-ch. 

I came up 

Fragment II 

Nearly all the horses and men. The 

same in the eighth battery. In our twelfth 
battery, towards the end of the third day, 
there remained only three guns — all the others 
being disabled — six men and one officer, myself 
We had neither slept nor eaten for twenty 
hours ; for three days and nights a Satanic roar 
and howl enveloped us in a cloud of insanity, 
isolated us from the earth, the sky and our- 
selves — and we, the living, wandered about 
like lunatics. The dead — they lay still, while 
we moved about doing our duty, talking and 
laughing, and we were — like lunatics. All 



THE RED LAUGH 9 

our movements were quick and certain, our 
orders clear, the execution of them precise, 
but if you had suddenly asked any one of us 
who we were, undoubtedly we should not have 
been able to find an answer in our troubled 
brain. As in a dream all faces seemed familiar, 
and all that was going on seemed quite 
familiar and natural — as if it had happened be- 
fore ; but when I looked closely at any face or 
gun, or began listening to the din, I was struck 
by the novelty and endless mystery of every- 
thing. Night approached imperceptibly, and 
before we had time to notice it and wonder 
where it had come from, the sun was again 
burning above our heads. And only from 
those who came to our battery we learnt that 
it was the third day of the battle that was 
dawning, and instantly forgot it again : to 
us it appeared as one endless day without any 
beginning, sometimes dark, sometimes bright, 
but always incomprehensible and blind. And 
nobody was afraid of death, for nobody under- 
stood what death was. 

On the third or fourth night — I do not 
remember which — I lay down for a minute 
behind the breastwork, and, as soon as I shut 
my eyes, the same familiar and extraordinary 
picture stood before them : the scrap of light- 



10 THE RED LAUGH 

blue wall-paper and the dusty untouched 
water-bottle on my table. While in the next 
room — and I could not see them — were my wife 
and little son. But this time a lamp with a 
green shade was burning on the table, so it 
must have been evening or night. The picture 
stood motionless, and I contemplated it very 
calmly and attentively for a long time, letting 
my eyes rest on the light reflected in the crystal 
of the water-bottle, and on the wall-paper, 
and wondered why my son was not asleep : 
for it was night and time for him to go to bed. 
Then I again began examining the wall-paper : 
every spiral, silvery flower, square and line — 
and never imagined that I knew my room so 
well. Now and then I opened my eyes and 
saw the black sky with beautiful fiery stripes 
upon it, then shut them again and saw once 
more the wall-paper, the bright water-bottle, 
and wondered why my son was not asleep, 
for it was night and time for him to go to bed. 
Once a shell burst not far from me, making my 
legs give a jerk, and somebody cried out loudly, 
louder than the bursting of the shell, and I 
said to myself: " Somebody is killed," but I did 
not get up and did not tear my eyes away from 
the light-blue wall-paper and the water-bottle. 
Afterwards I got up, moved about, gave 



THE RED LAUGH 11 

orders, looked at the men's faces, trained the 
guns, and kept on wondering why my son was 
not asleep. Once I asked the sergeant, and 
he explained it to me at length with great 
detail, and we kept nodding our heads. And 
he laughed, and his left eyebrow kept twitching, 
while his eye winked cunningly at somebody 
behind us. Behind us were somebody's feet — 
and nothing more. 

By this time it was quite light, when suddenly 
there fell a drop of rain. Rain — just the same 
as at home, the most ordinary little drops of 
rain. But it was so sudden and out of place, 
and we were so afraid of getting wet, that we 
left our guns, stopped firing, and tried to find 
shelter anywhere we could. 

The sergeant with whom I had only just 
been speaking got under the gun-carriage and 
dozed off, although he might have been crushed 
any minute ; the stout artilleryman, for some 
reason or other, began undressing a corpse, 
while I began running about the battery in 
search of something — a cloak or an umbrella. 
And the same instant over the whole enor- 
mous area, where the rain-cloud had burst, a 
wonderful stillness fell. A belated shrapnel- 
shot shrieked and burst, and everything grew 
still — so still that one could hear the stout 



12 THE RED LAUGH 

artilleryman panting and the drops of rain 
splashing upon the stones and guns. And this 
soft and continuous sound, that reminded one 
of autumn — the smell of the moist earth and 
the stillness — seemed to tear the bloody, savage 
nightmare asunder for an instant ; and when I 
glanced at the wet, glistening gun it unexpec- 
tedly reminded me of something dear and peace- 
ful — my childhood, or perhaps my first love. 
But in the distance a gun boomed forth par- 
ticularly loud, and the spell of the momentary 
lull disappeared ; the men began coming out 
of their hiding-places as suddenly as they had 
hid themselves ; a gun roared, then another, 
and once again the weary brain was enveloped 
by bloody, indissoluble gloom. And nobody 
noticed when the rain stopped. I only remem- 
ber seeing the water rolling off the fat, sunken 
yellow face of the killed artilleryman ; so I sup- 
posed it rained for rather a long time 

Before me stood a young volunteer, 

holding his hand to his cap and reporting to 
me that the general wanted us to retain our 
position for only two hours more, when we 
should be relieved. I was wondering why my 
son was not in bed, and answered that I could 
hold on as much as he wished. But suddenly 



THE RED LAUGH 13 

I became interested in the young man's face, 
probably because of its unusual and striking 
pallor. I never saw anything whiter than that 
face : even the dead have more colour than that 
young, beardless face had. I suppose he became 
terrified on his way to us, and could not recover 
himself; and in holding his hand to his cap he 
was only making an effort to drive away his mad 
fear by a simple and habitual gesture. 

"Are you afraid?" I asked, touching his 
elbow. But his elbow seemed as if made of 
wood, and he only smiled and remained silent. 
Better to say, his lips alone were twitching into 
a smile, while his eyes were full of youth and 
terror only — nothing more. 

"Are you afraid ?" I repeated kindly. His 
lips twitched, trying to frame a word, and the 
same instant there happened something incom- 
prehensible, monstrous and supernatural. I 
felt a draught of warm air upon my right cheek 
that made me sway — that is all — while before 
my eyes, in place of the white face, there was 
something short, blunt and red, and out of it the 
blood was gushing as out of an uncorked bottle, 
such as is drawn on badly executed signboards. 
And that short, red and flowing "something" 
still seemed to be smiling a sort of smile, a 
toothless laugh — a red laugh. 



14 THE RED LAUGH 

I recognised it — that red laugh. I had been 
searching for it, and I had found it — that red 
laugh. Now I understood what there was in 
all those mutilated, torn, strange bodies. It 
was a red laugh. It was in the sky, it was in 
the sun, and soon it was going to overspread 
the whole earth — that red laugh ! 

While they, with precision and calmness, like 
lunatics 

Fragment III 

They say there are a great number of mad- 
men in our army as well as in the enemy's. 
Four lunatic wards have been opened. When I 
was on the staff our adjutant showed me 

Fragment IV 

Coiled round like snakes. He saw the 

wire, chopped through at one end, cut the air 
and coil itself round three soldiers. The barbs 
tore their uniforms and stuck into their bodies, 
and, shrieking, the soldiers spun round in 
frenzy, two of them dragging the third, who 
was already dead, after them. Then onlyone re- 
mained alive, and he tried to push the two that 
were dead away from him ; but they trailed after 
him, whirlingand rollingover each other andover 
him ; and suddenly all three became motionless. 



THE RED LAUGH 15 

He told me that no less than two thousand 
men were lost at that one wire entanglement. 
While they were hacking at the wire and get- 
ting entangled in its serpentine coils, they were 
pelted by an incessant rain of balls and grape- 
shot. He assured me it was very terrifying, 
and if only they had known in which direction 
to run, that attack would have ended in a panic 
flight. But ten or twelve continuous lines of 
wire, and the struggle with it, a whole labyrinth 
of pitfalls with stakes driven in at the bottom, 
had muddled them so, that they were quite 
incapable of defining the direction of escape. 

Some, like men blind, fell into the funnel- 
shaped pits, and hung upon the sharp stakes, 
pierced through the stomach, twitching con- 
vulsively and dancing like toy clowns ; they 
were crushed down by fresh bodies, and soon 
the whole pit filled to the edges, and presented 
a writhing mass of bleeding bodies, dead and 
living. Hands thrust themselves out of it in 
all directions, the fingers working convulsively, 
catching at everything ; and those who once 
got caught in that trap could not get back 
again : hundreds of fingers, strong and blind, 
like the claws of a lobster, gripped them firmly 
by the legs, caught at their clothes, threw them 
down upon themselves, gouged out their eyes 



16 THE RED LAUGH 

and throttled them. Many seemed as if they 
were intoxicated, and ran straight at the wire, 
got ciught in it, and remained shrieking, until 
a bullet finished them. 

Generally speaking, they all seemed like 
people intoxicated : some swore dreadfully, 
others laughed when the wire caught them by 
the arm or leg and died there and then. He 
himself, although he had had nothing to eat or 
drink since the morning, felt very queer. His 
head swam, and there were moments when the 
feeling of terror in him changed to wild rapture, 
and from rapture again to terror. When some- 
bDdy struck up a song at his side, he caught up 
the tune, and soon a whole unanimous chorus 
broke forth. He did not remember what they 
sang, only that it was lively in a dancing strain. 
Yes, they sang, while all around them was red 
with blood. The very sky seemed to be red, 
and one could have thought that a catastrophe 
had overwhelmed the universe — a strange dis- 
appearance of colours : the light-blue and green 
and other habitual peaceful colours had disap- 
peared, while the sun blazed forth in a red 
flare-light. 

"The red laugh," said I. 

But he did not understand. 

" Yes, and they laughed, as I told you be- 



THE RED LAUGH 17 

fore, like people intoxicated. Perhaps they 
even danced. There was something of the 
sort. At least the movements of those three 
resembled dancing." 

He remembers distinctly, when he was shot 
through the chest and fell, his legs twitched for 
some time until he lost consciousness, as if he 
were dancing to music. And at the pre- 
sent moment, when he thinks of that attack, a 
strange feeling comes over him : partly fear 
and partly the desire to experience it all over 
again. 

" And get another ball in your chest ? " 
asked I. 

" There now, why should I get a ball each 
time. But it would not be half bad, old boy 
to get a medal for bravery." 

He was lying on his back with a waxen face, 
sharp nose, prominent cheek-bones and sunken 
eyes. He was lying looking like a corpse 
and dreaming of a medal ! Mortification had 
already set in ; he had a high temperature, and 
in three days' time he was to be thrown into the 
grave to join the dead ; nevertheless he lay 
smiling dreamily and talking about a medal. 

" Have you telegraphed to your mother?" I 
asked. 

He glanced at me with terror, animosity and 
в 



18 THE RED LAUGH 

anger, and did not answer. I was silent, and 
then the groans and ravings of the wounded 
became audible. But when I rose to go, he 
caught my hand in his hot, but still strong one, 
and fixed his sunken burning eyes upon me in 
a lost and distressed way. 

" What does it all mean, ay ? What does it 
all mean ? " asked he in a frightened and per- 
sistent manner, pulling at my hand. 

"What?" 

" Everything ... in general. Now, she is 
waiting for me. But I cannot. My country — 
is it possible to make her understand, what my 
country means." 

" The red laugh," answered I. 

" Ah ! you are always joking, but I am 
serious. It is indispensable to explain it ; but 
is it possible to make her understand ? If you 
only knew what she says in her letters ! — what 
she writes ! And you know her words — are 
grey-haired. And you — " he looked curiously 
at my head, pointed his finger and suddenly 
breaking into a laugh said : "Why, you have 
grown bald. Have you noticed it?" 

"There are no looking-glasses here." 

" Many have grown bald and grey. Look 
here, give me a looking-glass. Give me one ! 
I feel white hair growing out of my head. Give 



THE RED LAUGH 19 

me a looking-glass ! " He became delirious, 
crying and shouting out, and I left the hospital. 
That same evening we got up an entertain- 
ment — a sad and strange entertainment, at 
which, amongst the guests, the shadows of the 
dead assisted. We decided to gather in the 
evening and have tea, as if we were at home, 
at a picnic. We got a samovar, we even got 
a lemon and glasses, and established ourselves 
under a tree, as if we were at home, at a picnic. 
Our companions arrived noisily in twos and 
threes, talking, joking and full of gleeful 
expectation — but soon grew silent, avoiding to 
look at each other, for there was something 
fearful in this meeting of spared men. In 
tatters, dirty, itching as if we were covered by 
a dreadful ringworm, with hair neglected, thin 
and worn, having lost all familiar and habitual 
aspect, we seemed to see each other for 
the first time as we gathered round the 
samovar, and seeing each other, we grew ter- 
rifiied. In vain 1 looked for a familiar face in 
this group of disconcerted men — I could not 
find one. These men, restless, hasty and jerky 
in their movements, starting at every sound, 
constantly looking for something behind their 
backs, trying to fill up that mysterious void 
into which they were too terrified to look, by 



20 THE RED LAUGH 

superfluous gesticulations — were new, strange 
men, whom I did not know. And their voices 
sounded different, articulating the words with 
difficulty in jerks, easily passing into angry 
shouts or senseless, irrepressible laughter at the 
slightest provocation. And everything around 
us was strange to us. The tree was strange, 
and the sunset strange, and the water strange, 
with a peculiar taste and smell, as if we had 
left the earth and entered into a new world to- 
gether with the dead — a world of mysterious 
phenomena and ominous sombre shadows. The 
sunset was yellow and cold ; black, unillumined, 
motionless clouds hung heavily over it, while 
the earth under it was black, and our faces in 
that ill-omened light seemed yellow, like the 
faces of the dead. We all sat watching the 
samovar, but it went out, its sides reflecting the 
yellowishness and menace of the sunset, and it 
seemed also an unfamiliar, dead and incompre- 
hensible object. 

" Where are we 1 " asked somebody, and 
uneasiness and fear sounded in his voice. 
Somebody sighed ; somebody convulsively 
cracked his fingers ; somebody laughed ; some- 
body jumped up and began walking quickly 
round the table. These last days one could 
often meet with such men, that were always 



THE RED LAUGH 21 

walking hastily, almost running, at times 
strangely silent, at times mumbling something 
in an uncanny way. 

" At the war," answered he who had laughed, 
and again burst into a hollow, lingering laugh, 
as if something was choking him. 

" What is he laughing at ? " asked somebody, 
indignantly. " Look here, stop it ! " 

The other choked once more, gave a titter 
and stopped obediently. 

It was growing dark, the cloud seemed to 
be settling down on the earth, and we could 
with difficulty distinguish each other's yellow 
phantom-like faces. Somebody asked, — 

" And where is Fatty-legs ? " 

" Fatty-legs " we called a fellow-officer, who, 
being short, wore enormous water-tight boots. 

" He was here just now. Fatty-legs, where 
are you ? " 

" Fatty-legs, don't hide. We can smell 
your boots." 

Everybody laughed, but their laugh was in- 
terrupted by a rough, indignant voice that 
sounded out of the darkness, — 

" Stop that ! Are you not ashamed ? Fatty- 
legs was killed this morning reconnoitring." 

" He was here just now. It must be a 
mistake." 



22 THE RED LAUGH 

"You imagined it. Heigh-ho! you there, 
behind the samovar, cut me a sHce of lemon." 

"And me!" 

"And me!" 

"The lemon is finished." 

"How is that, boys?" sounded a gentle, 
hurt voice, full of distress and almost crying ; 
"why, I only came for the sake of the lemon." 

The other aoain burst into a hollow and 

о 

lingering laugh, and nobody checked him. 
But he soon stopped. He gave a snigger, and 
was silent. Somebody said, — 

"To-morrow we begin the advance on the 
enemy." 

But several voices cried out angrily, — 

" Nonsense, advance on the enemy indeed! " 

" But you know yourself — " 

" Shut up. As if we cannot talk of some- 
thing else." 

The sunset faded. The cloud lifted, and it 
seemed to grow lighter ; the faces became 
more familiar, and he, who kept circling round 
us, grew calmer and sat down. 

" I wonder what it's like at home now ? " 
asked he, vaguely, and in his voice there 
sounded a guilty smile. 

And once again all became terrible, incom- 
prehensible and strange — so intensely so, that 



THE RED LAUGH 23 

we were filled with horror, almost to the verge 
of losing consciousness. And we all began talk- 
ing and shouting at the same time, bustling 
about, moving our glasses, touching each 
other's shoulders, hands, knees — and all at 
once became silent, giving way before the 
incomprehensible. 

"At home?" cried somebody out of the 
darkness. His voice was hoarse and quiver- 
ing with emotion, fear and hatred. And some 
of the words would not come out, as if he had 
forgotten how to say them. 

"A home? What home? Why, is there 
home anywhere ? Don't interrupt me or else 
I shall fire. At home I used to take a bath 
every day — can you understand ? — a bath with 
water — water up to the very edges. While 
now — I do not even wash my face every day. 
My head is covered with scurf, and my whole 
body itches and over it crawl, crawl .... I 
am going mad from dirt, while you talk of — 
home ! I am like an animal, I despise myself, 
I cannot recognise myself, and death is not at 
all terrifying. You tear my brain with your 
shrapnel-shots. Aim at what you will, all hit 
my brain — and you can speak of — home. 
What home ? Streets, windows, people, but 
I would not go into the street now for any- 



24 THE RED LAUGH 

thing. I should be ashamed to. You brought a 
samovar here, but I was ashamed to look at it." 
The other laughed again. Somebody called 
out, — 

*' D — n it all ! I shall go home." 
''Home?" 

** You don't understand what duty is ! " 
"Home.-* Listen! he wants to go home!" 
There was a burst of laughter and of painful 
shouts — and again all became silent — giving 
way before the incomprehensible. And then 
not only I, but every one of us felt that. It 
was coming towards us out of those dark, 
mysterious and strange fields ; it was rising 
from out of those obscure dark ravines, where, 
maybe, the forgotten and lost among the stones 
were still dying ; it was flowing from the 
strange, unfamiliar sky. We stood around the 
dying-out samovar in silence, losing conscious- 
ness from horror, while an enormous, shapeless 
shadow that had risen above the world, looked 
down upon us from the sky with a steady and 
silent gaze. Suddenly, quite close to us, prob- 
ably at the Commander's house, music burst 
forth, and the frenzied, joyous, loud sounds 
seemed to flash out into the nio^ht and stillness. 

О 

The band played with frenzied mirth and de- 
fiance, hurriedly, discordantly, too loudly, and 



THE RED LAUGH 25 

too joyously, and one could feel that those 
who were playing, and those who were 
listening, saw as we did, that same enormous, 
shapeless shadow, risen above the world. 
And it was clear the player on the trumpet 
carried in himself, in his very brain and ears, 
that same enormous dumb shadow. The 
abrupt and broken sound tossed about, jump- 
ing and running away from the others, quiver- 
ing with horror and insanity in its lonesome- 
ness. And the other sounds seemed to be 
looking round at it, so clumsily they ran, 
stumbling, falling, and again rising in a 
disorderly crowd — too loud, too joyous, too 
close to the black ravines, where most probably 
the forgotten and lost among the boulders were 
still dying. 

And we stood for a long time around the cold 
samovar and were silent. 

Fragment V 

I was already asleep when the doctor 

roused me by pushing me cautiously. I woke, 
and jumping up, cried out, as we all did 
when anybody wakened us, and rushed to the 
entrance of our tent. But the doctor held me 
firmly by the arm, excusing himself, — 



26 THE RED LAUGH 

" I frightened you, forgive me. I know you 
want to sleep . . ." 

" Five days and nights ..." I muttered, 
dozing off. I fell asleep and slept, as it seemed 
to me for a long time, when the doctor again 
began speaking, poking me cautiously in the 
ribs and legs. 

" But it is very urgent. Dear fellow, please — 
it is so pressing. I keep thinking ... I can- 
not ... I keep thinking, that some of the 
wounded were left . . ." 

" What wounded ? Why, you were bringing 
them in the whole day long. Leave me in 
peace. It is not fair — I have not slept for five 
days ! " 

" Dear boy, don't be angry," muttered the 
doctor, awkwardly putting my capon my head ; 
" everybody is asleep, it's impossible to rouse 
anybody. I've got hold of an engine and seven 
carriages, but we're in want of men. I under- 
stand. . . . Dear fellow, I implore you. Every- 
body is asleep and everybody refuses. I'm 
afraid of falling asleep myself. I don't re- 
member when I slept last. I believe I'm 
beginning to have hallucinations. There's a 
dear fellow, put down your feet, just one — there 
— there " 

The doctor was pale and tottering, and one 



THE RED LAUGH 27 

could see that if he were only to lie down for 
an instant he would fall asleep and remain so 
without waking for several days running. My 
legs sank under me, and I am certain I fell 
asleep as I walked — so suddenly and un- 
expectedly appeared before us a row of black 
outlines — the engine and carriages. Near 
them, scarcely distinguishable in the darkness, 
some men were wandering about slowly and 
silently. There was not a single light either 
on the engine or carriages, and only the shut 
ash-box threw a dim reddjsh light on to the 
rails. 

"What is this.'* " asked I, stepping back. 

" Why, we are going in the train. Have you 
forgotten? We are going in the train," 
muttered the doctor. 

The night was chilly and he was trembling 
from cold, and as I looked at him I felt the 
same rapid tickling shiver all over my body. 

"D — n you!" I cried loudly. "Just as if 
you couldn't have taken somebody else." 

"Hush! please, hush!" and the doctor 
caught me by the arm. 

Somebody out of the darkness said, — 

"If you were to fire a volley from all the 
guns, nobody would stir. They are all asleep. 
One could go up and bind them all. Just now 



28 THE RED LAUGH 

I passed quite close to the sentry. He looked 
at me and did not say a word, never stirred. I 
suppose he was asleep too. It's a wonder he 
does not fall down." 

He who spoke yawned and his clothes 
rustled, evidently he was stretching himself. 
I leant against the side of the carriage, intend- 
ing to climb up — and was instantly overcome 
by sleep. Somebody lifted me up from behind 
and laid me down, while I began pushing him 
away with my feet, without knowing why, and 
again I fell asleep, hearing as in a dream frag- 
ments of a conversation : 

" At the seventh verst." 

" Have you forgotten the lanterns ? " 

** No, he won't go." 

" Give them here. Back a little. That's it." 

The carriages were jerking backwards and 
forwards, something was rattling. And 
gradually, because of all these sounds and 
because I was lying comfortably and quietly, 
sleep deserted me. But the doctor was sound 
asleep, and when I took him by the hand, it 
was like the hand of a corpse, heavy and limp. 
The train was now moving slowly and 
cautiously, shaking slightly, as if groping its 
way. The student acting as hospital orderly 
lighted the candle in the lantern, lighting up 



THE RED LAUGH 29 

the walls and the black aperture of the entrance, 
and said angrily, — 

" D — n it ! Much they need us by this time. 
But you had better wake him, before he falls 
into a sound sleep, for then you won't be able 
to do anything with him. I know by myself." 

We roused the doctor and he sat up, rolling 
his eyes vacantly. He tried to lie down again, 
but we did not let him. 

" It would be good to have a drop of vodki 
now," said the student. 

We drank a mouthful of brandy, and all 
sleepiness disappeared entirely. The big black 
square of the door began to grow pink, then red 
— somewhere from behind the hills appeared 
an enormous mute flare of a conflagrration : as 
if the sun was risinor in the middle of the nig-ht. 

'^ It's far away. About twenty versts." 

*' I feel cold," said the doctor, snapping his 
teeth. 

The student looked out of the door and 
beckoned me to come up to him. I looked 
out : at different points of the horizon motion- 
less flares of similar conflagration stood 
out in a mute row : as if dozens of suns were 
rising simultaneously. And now the darkness 
was not so great. The distant hills were 
growing more densely black, sharply outlined 



30 THE RED LAUGH 

against the sky in a broken and wavy contour, 
while in the foreground all was flooded with a 
redsoft ctIow, silent and motionless. I glanced 
at the student ; his face was tinged by the same 
re_d fantastic colour of blood, that had changed 
itself into air and light. 

'* Are there many wounded ? " asked I. 

He waved his hand. 

" A great many madmen. More so than 
wounded." 

" Real madmen ? " 

" What others can there be ? " 

He was looking at me, and his eyes wore 
the same fixed, wild expression, full of cold 
horror, that the soldier's had, who died of 
sunstroke. 

" Stop that," said I, turning away. 

" The doctor is mad also. Just look at him." 

The doctor had not heard. He was sitting 
cross-legged, like a Turk, swaying to and fro, 
soundlessly moving his lips and finger-tips. 
And in his gaze there was the same fixed, 
stupefied, blunt, stricken expression. 

" I feel cold," said he, and smiled. 

" Hang you all ! " cried I, moving away into 
a corner of the carriage. "What did you call 
me up for ? " 

Nobody answered. The student stood gazing 



THE RED LAUGH 31 

out at the mute spreading glow, and the back 
of his head with its curly hair was youthful ; and 
when I looked at him, I do not know why, but 
I kept picturing to myself a delicate woman's 
hand passing through that hair. And this 
image was so unpleasant, that a feeling of 
hatred sprang up in my breast, and I could 
not look at him without a feeling of loathing. 

"How old are you?" I asked, but he did 
not turn his head and did not answer. 

The doctor kept on rocking himself. 

'• I feel cold." 

" When I think," said the student, without 
turning round, " when I think that there are 
streets, houses, a University . . ." 

He broke off, as if he had said all and was 
silent. Suddenly the train stopped almost in- 
stantaneously, making me knock myself against 
the wall, and voices were to be heard. We 
jumped out. In front of the very engine upon 
the rails lay something, a not very large lump, 
out of which a leg was projecting. 

"Wounded?" 

"No, dead. The head is torn off. Say what 
you will, but I will light the head-light. 
Otherwise we shall be crushing somebody." 

The lump with the protruding leg was 
thrown aside ; for an instant the leg lifted itself 



32 THE RED LAUGH 

up, as if it wanted to run through the air, and 
all disappeared in a black ditch. The head- 
light was lit and the engine instantly grew 
black. 

" Listen ! " whispered somebody, full of silent 
terror. 

How was it that we had not heard it before ! 
From everywhere — the exact place could not 
be defined — a groan, unbroken and scraping, 
wonderfully calm in its breadth, and even 
indifferent, as it seemed, was borne upon us. 
We had heard many cries and groans, but this 
resembled none of those heard before. On 
the dim reddish surface our eyes could perceive 
nothing, and therefore the very earth and sky, 
lit up by a never-rising sun, seemed to be 
groaning. 

" The fifth verst," said the engine-driver. 

" That is where it comes from," and the 
doctor pointed forwards. The student shud- 
dered, and slowly turned towards us. 

'* What is it ? It's terrible to listen to ! " 

" Let's move on." 

We walked along in front of the engine, 
throwing a dense shadow upon the rails, but it 
was not black but of a dim red colour, lit up by 
the soft motionless flares, that stood out mutely 
at the different points of the black sky. And 



THE RED LAUGH 33 

with each step we made, ;that wild unearthly 
groan, that had no visible source, grew 
ominously, as if it was the rei air, the very 
earth and sky, that were groaning. In its 
ceaselessness and strange indifference it re- 
called at times the noise of grasshoppers in a 
meadow — the ceaseless noise of grasshoppers 
in a meadow on a warm summer day. And 
we came upon dead bodies oftener and oftener. 
We examined them rapidly and threw them off 
the rails — those indifferent, calm, limp bodies, 
that left dark oily stains where the blood had 
soaked into the earth where they had lain. At 
first we counted them, but soon got muddled, 
and ceased. They were many — too many for 
that ominous night, that breathed cold and 
groans from each fibre of its being. 

" What does it mean ? " cried the doctor, and 
threatened somebody with his fist. "Just 
listen . . ." 

We were nearing the sixth verst, and the 
groans were growing distinct and sharp, and 
we could almost feel the distorted mouths, 
from which those terrible sounds were issuing. 

We looked anxiously into the rosy gloom, 
so deceitful in its fantastic light, when suddenly, 
almost at our feet, beside the rails, somebody 
gave a loud, calling, crying, groan. We found 



34 THE RED LAUGH 

him instantly, that wounded man, whose face 
seemed to consist only of two eyes, so big 
they appeared, when the light of the lantern 
fell on his face. He stopped groaning, and 
rested his eyes on each of us and our lanterns 
in turn, and in his glance there was a mad joy 
at seeing- men and lig^hts — and a mad fear that 
all would disappear like a vision. Perhaps he 
had seen men with lanterns bending over him 
many times, but they had always disappeared 
in a bloody confused nightmare. 

We moved on, and almost instantly stumbled 
against two more wounded, one lying on the 
rails, the other groaning in a ditch. As we 
were picking them up, the doctor, trembling 
with anger, said to me: "Well.-^" and turned 
away. Several steps farther on we met a man 
wounded slightly, who was walking alone, 
supporting one arm with the other. He was 
walking with his head thrown back, straight 
towards us, but seemed not to notice us, 
when we drew aside to let him pass. I believe 
he did not see us. He stopped for an instant 
near the engine, turned aside, and went past 
the train. 

*' You had better get in ! " cried the doctor, 
but he did not answer. 

These were the first that we found, and they 



THE RED LAUGH 35 

horrified us. But later on we came upon them 
oftener and oftener along the rails or near them, 
and the whole field, lit up by the motionless red 
flare of the conflagrations, began stirring as if 
it were alive, breaking out into loud cries, 
wails, curses and groans. All those dark 
mounds stirred and crawled about like half- 
dead lobsters let out of a basket, with out- 
spread legs, scarcely resembling men in their 
broken, unconscious movements and ponderous 
immobility. Some were mute and obedient, 
others groaned, wailed, swore and showed 
such a passionate hate towards us that were 
saving them, as if we had brought about that 
bloodly, indifferent night, and been the cause 
of all those terrible wounds and their loneliness 
amidst the night and dead bodies. 

The train was full, and our clothes were 
saturated with blood, as if we had stood for a 
long time under a rain of blood, while the 
wounded were still being brought in, and the 
field, come to life, was stirring wildly as 
before. 

Some of the wounded crawled up them- 
selves, some walked up tottering and falling. 
One soldier almost ran up to us. His face was 
smashed, and only one eye remained, burning 
wildly and terribly, and he was almost naked, 



36 THE KED LAUGH 

as if he had come from the bath-room. Push- 
ing me aside, he caught sight of the doctor, 
and rapidly seized him by the chest with his 
left hand. 

" I'll smash your snout!" he cried, shaking 
the doctor, and added slowly and mordantly a 
coarse oath. "I'll smash your snouts! you 
rabble ! " 

The doctor broke away from the soldier, 
and advancing towards him, cried chok- 
ingly,— 

"I will have you court- martialled, you 
scoundrel I To prison with you ! You're 
hindering my work ! Scoundrel! Brute!" 

We pulled them apart, but the soldier 
kept on crying out for a long time : " Rabble ! 
I'll smash your snout! " 

I was beginning to get exhausted, and went a 
little way off to have a smoke and rest a bit. 
The blood, dried to my hands, covered them 
like a pair of black gloves, making it difficult 
for me to bend my fingers, so that I kept 
dropping my cigarettes and matches. And 
when I succeeded in lighting my cigarette, the 
tobacco smoke struck me as novel and strange, 
with quite a peculiar taste, the like of which I 
never experienced before or after. Just then the 
ambulance student with whom I had travelled 



THE RED LAUGH 37 

came up to me, and it seemed to me as if I 
had met with him several years back, but where 
I could not remember. His tread was firm as 
if he were marching, and he was staring 
through me at something farther on and 
higher up. 

"And they are sleeping," said he, as it 
seemed, quite calmly. 

I flew into a rage, as if the reproach was 
addressed to me. 

" You forget, that they fought like lions for 
ten days." 

" And they are sleeping," he repeated, look- 
ing through me and higher up. Then he 
stooped down to me and shaking his finger, 
continued in the same dry and calm way : " I 
will tell you — I will tell you . . ." 

"What?" 

He stooped still lower towards me, shaking 
his finger meaningly, and kept repeating the 
words as if they expressed a completed 
idea, — 

"I will tell you— I will tell you. Tell 
them. . ." And still looking at me in the same 
severe way, he shook his finger once more, 
then took out his revolver and shot himself in 
the temple. And this did not surprise or 
terrify me in the least. Putting my cigarette 



38 THE BED LAUGH 

into the left hand, I felt his wound with my 
fingers, and went back to the train. 

"The student has shot himself. I believe 
he is still alive," said I to the doctor. The 
latter caught hold of his head and groaned. 

'* D — nhim! . . . There is no room. There, 
that one will go and shoot himself too, soon. 
And I give you my word of honour," cried he, 
angrily and menacingly, " I will do the same ! 
Yes ! And let me beg you — just walk back. 
There is no room. You can lodge a complaint 
against me if you like." 

And he turned away, still shouting, while I 
went up to the other who was about to commit 
suicide. He was an ambulance man, and also, 
I believe, a student. He stood, pressing his 
forehead against the wall of the carriage, and 
his shoulders shook with sobs. 

"Stop!" said I, touching his quivering 
shoulder. But he did not turn round or 
answer, and continued crying. And the back 
of his head was youthful, like the other 
student's, and as terrifying, and he stood in an 
absurd manner with his legs spread out like a 
person drunk, who is sick ; and his neck was 
covered with blood ; probably he had clutched 
it with his own hands. 

"Well?" said I, impatiently. 



THE RED LAUGH 39 

He pushed himself away from the carriage 
and, stooping Hke an old man, with his head 
bent down, he went away into the darkness, 
away from all of us. I do not know why, but 
I followed him, and we walked along for a long 
time away from the carriages. I believe he 
was crying, and a feeling of distress stole over 
me, and I wanted to cry too. 

" Stop ! " I cried, standing still. 

But he walked on, moving his feet 
ponderously, bent down, looking like an old 
man with his narrow shoulders and shuffling 
gait. And soon he disappeared in the reddish 
haze, that resembled light and yet lit nothing. 
And I remained alone. To the left of me a 
row of dim lights floated past — it was the train. 
I was alone — amidst the dead and dying. 
How many more remained.-^ Near me all was 
still and dead, but farther on the field was stir- 
ring, as if it were alive — or so it seemed to me 
in my loneliness. But the moan did not 
grow less. It spread along the earth — high- 
pitched, hopeless, like the cry of a child or the 
yelping of thousands of cast-away puppies, 
starving and cold. Like a sharp, endless, icy 
needle it pierced your brain and slowly moved 
backwards and forwards — backwards and for- 
wards 



40 THE RED LAUGH 

Fragment VI 

They were our own men. During the 

strange confusion of all movements that 
reigned in both armies, our own and the 
enemy's, during the last month, frustrating all 
orders and plans, we were sure it was the 
enemy that was approaching us, namely, the 
4th corps. And everything was ready for an 
attack, when somebody clearly discerned our 
uniforms, and ten minutes later our guess had 
become a calm and happy certainty : they 
were our own men. They apparently had re- 
cognised us too : they advanced quite calmly, 
and that calm motion seemed to express 
the same happy smile of an unexpected 
meeting. 

And when they began firing, we did not 
understand for some time what it meant, and 
still continued smiling — under a hail of 
shrapnel and bullets, that poured down upon 
us, snatching away at one stroke hundreds 
of men. Somebody cried out by mistake and 
— I clearly remember — we all saw that it was 
the enemy, that it was his uniform and not 
ours, and instantly answered the fire. About 
fifteen minutes after the beginning of that 
strange engagement both my legs were torn 



THE RED LAUGH 41 

off, and I recovered consciousness in the 
hospital after the amputation. 

I asked how the battle had ended, and re- 
ceived an evasive, reassuring answer, by which 
I could understand that we had been beaten ; 
and afterwards, legless as I was, I was over- 
come by joy at the thought that now I would 
be sent home, that I was alive — alive for a long 
time to come, alive forever. And only a week 
later I learnt some particulars, that once more 
filled me with doubts and a new, unexperienced 
feeling of terror. Yes, I believe they were 
our own men after all — and it was with one 
of our shells, fired out of one of our guns by 
one of our men, that my legs had been torn off. 
And nobody could explain how it had 
happened. Something occurred, something 
darkened our vision, and two regiments, be- 
longing to the same army, facing each 
other at a distance of one verst, had been 
destroying each other for a whole hour in the 
full conviction that it was the enemy they had 
before them. Later on the incident was 
remembered and spoken of reluctantly in half- 
words and — what is most surprising of all — 
one could feel that many of the speakers did 
not admit the mistake even then. That is to 
say, they admitted it, but thought that it had 



42 THE RED LAUGH 

occurred later on, that in the beginning they 
really had the enemy before them, but that he 
disappeared somewhere during the general 
fray, leaving us in the range of our own shells. 
Some spoke of it openly, giving precise ex- 
planations, which seemed to them plausible 
and clear. Up to this very minute I cannot 
say for certain how the strange blunder began, 
as I saw with equal clearness first our red 
uniforms and then their orange-coloured ones. 
And somehow very soon everybody forgot 
about the incident, forgot about it to such an 
extent that it was spoken of as a real battle, 
and in that sense many accounts were written 
and sent to the papers in all good faith ; I 
read them when I was back home. At first 
the public's attitude towards us, the wounded 
in that engagement, was rather strange — we 
seemed to be less pitied than those wounded 
in other battles, but soon even that disappeared 
too. And only new facts, similar to the one 
just described, and a case in the enemy's army, 
when two detachments actually destroyed each 
other almost entirely, having come to a hand- 
to-hand fight during the night — gives me the 
right to think that a mistake did occur. 

Our doctor, the one that did the amputation, 
a lean, bony old man, tainted with tobacco 



THE RED LAUGH 43 

smoke and carbolic acid, everlastingly smiling 
at something through his yellowish-grey thin 
moustache, said to me, winking his eye, — 
" You're in luck to be croinor home. There's 

о о 

something wrong here." 

*' What is it ? " 

"Something's going wrong. In our time it 
was simpler." 

He had taken part in the last European war 
almost a quarter of a century back and often 
referred to it with pleasure. But this war he did 
not understand, and, as I noticed, feared it. 

"Yes, there's something wrong," sighed he, 
and frowned, disappearing in a cloud of tobacco 
smoke. " I would leave too, if I could." 

And bending over me he whispered through 
his yellow smoked moustache, — 

" A time will come when nobody will be able 
to go away from here. Yes, neither I nor 
anybody," and in his old eyes, so close to me, 
I saw the same fixed, dull, stricken expression. 
And something terrible, unbearable, resem- 
bling the fall of thousands of buildings, darted 
through my head, and growing cold from terror, 
I whispered, — 

" The red laugh." 

And he was the first to understand me. He 
hastily nodded his head and repeated, — 



44 THE RED LAUGH 

'* Yes. The red laugh." 

He sat down quite close to me and looking 
round began whispering rapidly, in a senile 
way, wagging his sharp, grey little beard. 

'* You are leaving soon, and I willtell you. ^^id 
you ever see a fight in an asylum ? No? Well, 
I saw one. And they fought like sane people. 
You understand — like sane people." He signifi- 
cantly repeated the last phrase several times. 

" Well, and what of that ? " asked I, also in a 
whisper, full of terror. 

*' Nothing. Like sane people." 

"The red laugh," said I. 

" They were separated by water being 
poured over them." 

I remembered the rain that had frightened 
us so, and got angry. 

" You are mad, doctor ! " 

" Not more than you. Not more than you 
in any case." 

He hugged his sharp old knees and chuckled ; 
and, looking at me over his shoulder and still 
with the echo of that unexpected painful 
laugh on his parched lips, he winked at me 
slyly several times, as if we two knew some- 
thing very funny, that nobody else knew. 
Then with the solemnity of a professor of black 
i^^g^c, giving a conjuring performance, he 



THE RED LAUGH 45 

lifted his arm and, lowering it slowly, carefully 
touched with two fingers that part of the 
blanket, under which my legs would have been, 
if they had not been cut off. 

" And do you understand this ? " he asked 
mysteriously. 

Then, in the same solemn and significant 
manner, he waved his hand towards the row of 
beds on which the wounded were lying, and 
repeated, — 

" And can you explain this ? " 

" The wounded ? " said I. " The wounded ? " 

"The wounded," repeated he, like an echo. 
" The wounded. Legless and armless, with 
pierced sides, smashed-in chests and torn-out 
eyes. You understand it ? I am very glad. 
So I suppose you will understand this also ^ " 

With an agility, quite unexpected for his age, 
he flung himself down and stood on his hands, 
balancing his legs in the air. His white 
working clothes turned down, his face grew 
purple and, looking at me fixedly with a 
strange upturned gaze, he threw at me with 
difficulty a few broken words, — 

"And this ... do you . . . also . . . 
understand ? " 

"Stop!" whispered I in terror, "or else I 
will cry out." 



46 THE RED LAUGH 

He turned over into a natural position, sat 
down again near my bed, and taking breath, 
remarked instinctively, — 

** And nobody can understand it." 

" Yesterday they were firing again." 

*' Yes, they were firing yesterday and the day 
before," said he, nodding his head affirmatively. 

" I want to go home ! " said I in distress. 
" Doctor, dear fellow, I want to go home. I 
cannot remain here any longer. At times I 
cannot bring myself to believe that I have a || 
home, where it is so good." 

He was thinking of something and did not 
answer, and I began to cry. 

" My God, I have no legs. I used to love 
my bicycle so, to walk and run, and now I have 
no legs. 1 used to dance my boy on the right 
foot and he laughed, and now. . . . Curse you 
all ! What shall I go home for ? I am only 
thirty. . . . Curse you all ! " 

And I sobbed and sobbed, as I thought of 
my dear legs, my fleet, strong legs. Who 
took them away from me, who dared to take 
them away ! 

" Listen," said the doctor, looking aside. 
"Yesterday I saw a mad soldier that came to 
us. An enemy's soldier. He was stripped 
almost naked, beaten and scratched and hungry 



THE RED LAUGH 47 

as an animal, his hair was unkempt, as ours 
is, and he resembled a savage, primitive man 
or monkey. He waved his arms about, made 
grimaces, sang and shouted and wanted to 
fight. He was fed and driven out again — into 
the open country. Where could we have kept 
him ? Days and nights they wander about the 
hills, backwards and forwards in all directions, 
keeping to no path, having no aim or resting- 
place, all in tatters like ominous phantoms. They 
wave their arms, laugh, shout and sing, and 
when they come across anybody they begin to 
fight, or, maybe, without noticing each other, 
pass by. What do they eat ? Probably 
nothing, or, maybe, they feed on the dead 
bodies together with the beasts, together with 
those fat wild dogs, that fight in the hills and 
yelp the whole night long. At night they 
gather about the fires like monstrous moths or 
birds awakened by a storm, and you need only 
light a fire to have in less than half-an-hour a 
dozen noisy, tattered wild shapes, resembling- 
chilled monkeys, gathering around it. Some- 
times they are fired at by mistake, sometimes 
on purpose, for they make you lose all patience 
with their unintelligible, terrifying cries. ..." 

" I want to go home ! " cried I, shutting my 
ears. 



48 THE RED LAUGH 

But new terrible words, sounding hollow and 
phantom-like, as if they were passing through a 
layer of wadding, kept hammering at my brain. 

"They are many. They die by hundreds 
in the precipices and pitfalls, that are made 
for sound and clever men, in the remnants of 
the barbed wire and on the stakes ; they take 
part in the regular battles and fight like heroes 
— always in the foremost ranks, always un- 
daunted, but often turn against their own men. 
I like them. At present I am only beginning 
to go mad, and that is why I am sitting and 
talking to you, but when my senses leave me 
entirely, I will go out into the open country — 
I will go out into the open country, and I will 
give a call — I will give a call, I will gather 
those brave ones, those knights-errant, around 
me, and declare war to the whole world. We 
will enter the towns and villages in a joyous 
crowd, with music and songs, leaving in our 
wake a trail of red, in which everything will 
whirl and dance like fire. Those that remain 
alive will join us, and our brave army will grow 
like an avalanche, and will cleanse the whole 
world. Who said that one must not kill, burn 
or rob? " 

He was shouting now, that mad doctor, and 
seemed to have awakened by his cries the 



THE RED LAUGH 49 

slumbering pain of all those around him with 
their ripped-open chests and sides, torn-out eyes 
and cut-off legs. The ward filled with a broad, 
rasping, crying groan, and from all sides pale, 
yellow, exhausted faces, some eyeless, some so 
monstrously mutilated that it seemed as if they 
had returned from hell, turned towards us. And 
they groaned and listened, and a black shapeless 
shadow, risen up from the earth, peeped in 
cautiously through the open door, while the mad 
doctor went on shouting, stretching out his arms. 
" Who said one must not kill, burn, or rob ? 
We will kill and burn and rob. We, a joyous 
careless band of braves, we will destroy all ; 
their buildings, universities and museums, and 
merry as children, full of fiery laughter, we 
will dance on the ruins. I will proclaim the 
madhouse our fatherland ; all those that have 
not gone mad — our enemies and madmen ; 
and when I, great, unconquerable and joyous, 
will begin to reign over the whole world, its 
sole lord and master, what a glad laugh will 
rinor over the whole universe." 

о 

" The red laugh ! " cried I, interrupting him. 
" Help. Again I hear the red laugh ! " 

" Friends ! " continued the doctor, address- 
ing himself to the groaning mutilated shadows. 
" Friends ! we shall have a red moon and a 

D 



50 THE RED LAUGH 

red sun, and the animals will have a merry red 
coat, and we will skin all those that are too 
white — that are too white. . . . You have not 
tasted blood ? It is slightly sticky and slightly 
warm, but it is red and has such a merry red 
laueh ! " 



гз 



Fragment VII 

It was godless and unlawful. The red 

cross is respected by the whole world, as a 
thing sacred, and they saw that it was a train 
full of harmless wounded and not soldiers, and 
they ought to have warned us of the mine. 
The poor fellows, they were dreaming of 
home 

Fragment VIII 

Around a samovar, around a real sam- 
ovar, out of which the steam was rising as out 
of an engine — the glass on the lamp had even 
grown dim, there was so much steam. And 
the cups were the same, blue outside and white 
inside, very pretty little cups, a wedding pre- 
sent. My wife's sister gave them — she is a 
very kind and good woman. 

" Is it possible they are all whole } " asked I, 
incredulously, mixing the sugar in my glass 
with a clean silver spoon. 



THE RED LAUGH 61 

" One was broken," said my wife, absently ; 
she was holding the tap open just then and 
the water was running out easily and prettily. 

I laughed. 

" What's it about ? " asked my brother. 

"Oh, nothing. Wheel me into the study 
just once more. You may as well trouble 
yourself for the sake of a hero. You idled 
away your time while I was away, but now 
that is over. I'll bring you to order," and 
I began singing, as a joke of course, — " My 
friends, we're bravely hurrying towards the 
foe " 

They understood the joke and smiled, only 
my wife did not lift up her face, she was 
wiping the cups with a clean embroidered 
cloth. And in the study I saw once again the 
light-blue wall-paper, a lamp with a green shade 
and a table with a water-bottle upon it. And 
it was a little dusty. 

" Pour me some water out of this," ordered 
I, merrily. 

** But you've just had tea." 

" That doesn't matter, pour me out some. 
And you," said I to my wife, " take our son 
and go into the next room for a minute. 
Please." 

And I drank the water with delight in small 



52 THE RED LAUGH 

sips, while my wife and son were in the next 
room, and I could not see them. 

" That's all right. Now come here. But 
why is he not in bed by this time ? " 

" He is so glad you have come home. 
Darling, go to your father." 

But the child began to cry and hid himself 
at his mother's feet. 

" Why is he crying ? " asked I, in perplexity, 
and looked around, "why are you all so pale 
and silent, following me like shadows.-^" 

My brother burst into a loud laugh and said, 
** We are not silent." 

And my sister said, " We are talking the 
whole time." 

" I will go and see about the supper," said 
my mother, and hurriedly left the room. 

" Yes, you are silent," I repeated, with 
sudden conviction. " Since morning I have 
not heard a word from you ; I am the only 
one who chats, laughs, and makes merry. 
Are you not glad to see me then ? And why do 
you all avoid looking at me? Have I changed 
so ? Yes, I am changed. But I do not see 
any looking-glasses about. Have you put them 
all away ? Give me a looking-glass." 

" I will bring you one directly," answered my 
wife, and did not come back for a long time. 



THE RED LAUGH 53 

and the looking-glass was brought by the maid. 
I looked into it, and — I had seen myself before 
in the train, at the station — it was the same 
face, grown older a little, but the most ordinary 
face. While they, I believe, expected me to 
cry out and faint — so glad were they when I 
asked calmly, — 

*' What is there so unusual in me ? " 

Laughing louder and louder, my sister left 
the room hurriedly, and my brother said with 
calm assurance : " Yes, you have not changed 
much, only grown slightly bald." 

" You can be thankful that my head is not 
broken," answered I, unconcernedly. "But 
where do they all disappear ? — first one, then 
another. Wheel me about the rooms, please. 
What a comfortable armchair, it does not make 
the slightest sound. How much did it cost.-* 
You bet I won't spare the money : I will buy 
myself such a pair of legs, better . . . My 
bicycle ! " 

It was hanging on the wall, quite new, only 
the tyres were limp for want of pumping. A 
tiny bit of mud had dried to the tyre of the 
back wheel — the last time I had ridden it. 
My brother was silent and did not move my 
chair, and I understood his silence and irreso- 
luteness. 



54 THE RED LAUGH 

" Only four officers remained alive in our 
regiment," said I, surlily. " I am very lucky. 
. . . You can take it for yourself — take it 
away to-morrow." 

'• All right, I will take it," agreed my brother 
submissively. " Yes, you are lucky. Half of 
the town is in mourning. While legs — that is 
really " 

" Of course I am not a postman." 

My brother stopped suddenly and asked, — 

" But why does your head shake ?" 

" That's nothing. The doctor said it will 
pass." 

"And your hands too? " 

" Yes, yes. And my hands too. It will all 
pass. Wheel me on, please, I am tired of 
remaining still." 

They upset me, those discontented people, 
but my gladness returned to me when they 
began making my bed ; a real bed, a handsome 
bed, that I had bought just before our wedding 
four years ago. They spread a clean sheet, 
then they shook the pillows and turned down 
the blanket, while I watched the solemn pro- 
ceedings, my eyes full of tears with laughing. 

" And now undress me and put me to bed," 
said I to my wife. " How good it is ! " 
" This minute, dear." 



THE RED LAUGH 55 

" Quicker ! " 

" This minute, dear." 

" Why ; what are you doing ? " 

" This minute, dear." 

She was standing behind my back, near the 
toilette table, and I vainly tried to turn my 
head so as to see her. And suddenly she gave 
aery, such a cry as one hears only at the war, — 

** What does it all mean ? " 

She rushed towards me, put her arms round 
me, and fell down, hiding her head near the 
stumps of my cut-off legs, from which she 
turned away with horror, and again pressed 
herself against them, kissing them, and crying, — 

"What have you become? Why, you are 
only thirty years old. You were young and 
handsome. What does it all mean.-* How 
cruel men are. What is it for ? For whom is 
it necessary ? You, my gentle, poor darling, 
darling " 

At her cry they all ran up — my mother, 
sister, nurse — and they all began crying and 
saying something or other, and fell at my feet 
wailing. While on the threshold stood my 
brother, pale, terribly pale, with a trembling 
jaw, and cried out in a high-pitched voice, — 

" I shall go mad with you all. I shall go mad ! " 

While my mother grovelled at my chair 



56 THE RED I.AUGH 

and had not the strength to cry, but only 
gasped, beating her head against the wheels. 
And there stood the clean bed with the well- 
shaken pillows and turned-down blanket, the 
same bed that I bought just before our 
wedding four years ago 

Fragment IX 

I was sitting in a warm bath, while 

my brother was pacing up and down the small 
room in a troubled manner, sitting down, getting 
up again, catching hold of the soap and towel, 
bringing them close up to his short-sighted 
eyes and again putting them back in their places. 
At, last he stood up with his face to the wall 
and picking at the plaster with his finger, con- 
tinued hotly. 

"Judge for yourself: one cannot teach people 
mercy, sense, logic — teach them to act con- 
sciously for tens and hundreds of years run- 
ning with impunity. And, in particular, to act 
consciously. One can become merciless, lose 
all sensitiveness, get accustomed to blood and 
tears and pain — for instance butchers, and some 
doctors and officers do, but how can one renounce 
truth, after one has learnt to know it ? In my 
opinion it is impossible. I was taught from 
infancy not to torture animals and be com- 



THE RED LAUGH 57 

passionate ; all the books that I read told me 
the same, and I am painfully sorry for all those 
that suffer at your cursed war. But time passes, 
and I am beginning to get accustomed to all 
those deaths, sufferings and all this blood ; I feel 
that I am getting less sensitive, less responsive 
in my everyday life and respond only to great 
stimulants, but I cannot get accustomed to 
war ; my brain refuses to understand and 
explain a thing that is senseless in its basis. 
Millions of people gather at one place and, 
giving their actions order and regularity, kill 
each other, and it hurts everybody equally, and 
all are unhappy — what is it if not madness.'*" 
My brother turned round and looked at me 
inquiringly with his short-sighted, artless eyes. 

"The red laugh," said I merrily, splashing 
about. 

" I will tell you the truth," and my 
brother put his cold hand trustingly on my 
shoulder, but quickly pulled it back, as if he 
was frightened at its being naked and wet. 
'* I will tell you the truth ; I am very much 
afraid of going mad. I cannot understand 
what is happening. I cannot understand it, and 
it is dreadful. If only anybody could explain 
it to me, but nobody can. You were at the 
front, you saw it all — explain it to me." 



58 THE RED LAUGH 

" Deuce take you," answered I jokingly, 
splashing about. 

" There, and you too," said my brother, 
sadly. " Nobody is capable of helping me. 
It's dreadful. And I am beginning to lose 
all understanding of what is permissible and 
what is not, what has sense and what is sense- 
less. If I were to seize you suddenly by the 
throat, at first gently, as if caressing you, and 
then firmly, and strangle you, what would 
that be ? " 

"You are talking nonsense. Nobody does 
such things." 

My brother rubbed his cold hands, smiled 
softly, and continued, — 

"When you were away there were nights 
when I did not sleep, could not sleep,and strange 
ideas entered my head — to take a hatchet, for 
instance, and go and kill everybody — mother, 
sister, the servants, our dog. Of course they 
were only fancies, and I would never do so." 

" I should hope not,"smiled I, splashing about. 

" Then, again, I am afraid of knives, of all 
that is sharp and shining ; it seems to me that 
if I were to take up a knife I should certainly 
kill somebody with it. Now, is it not true — 
why should I not plunge it into somebody, if 
it were sharp enough ? " 



THE RED LAUGH 59 

"The argument is sufficient. What a queer 
'fellow you are, brother ! Just open the hot- 
iwater tap." 

My brother opened the tap, let in some hot 
^water, and continued, — 

" Then, again, I am afraid of crowds — of 
men, when many of them gather together. 
When of an evening I hear a noise in the 
street — a loud shout, for instance — I start 
and believe that ... a massacre has begun. 
When several men stand together, and I can- 
not hear what they are talking about, it seems 
to me that they will suddenly cry out, fall 
upon each other, and blood will flow. And 
you know " — he bent mysteriously towards 
my ear — "the papers are full of murders 
— strange murders. It is all nonsense that 

о 

there are as many brains as there are men ; 
mankind has only one intellect, and it is be- 
ginning to get muddled. Just feel my head, 
how hot it is. It is on fire. And sometimes 
it gets cold, and everything freezes in it, grows 
benumbed, and changes into a terrible dead- 
like piece of ice. I must go mad ; don't 
laugh, brother, I must go mad. A quarter 
of an hour has passed, it's time for you to 
get out of your bath." 

" A little bit more. Just a minute." 



60 THE RED LAUGH 

It was so good to be sitting again in thatj 
bath and listening to the well-known voice, 
without reflecting upon the words, and to see alli 
the familiar, simple and ordinary things around 
me: the brass, slightly-green tap, the walls, | 
with the familiar pattern, and all the photo- 
graphic outfit laid out in order upon the 
shelves. I would take up photography again, 
take simple, peaceful landscapes and portraits 
of my son walking, laughing and playing. One 
could do that without legs. And I would take 
up my writing again — about clever books, the 
progress of human thought, beauty, and peace. 

" Ho, ho, ho ! " roared I, splashing about. 

" What is the matter with you ? " asked my 
brother, growing pale and full of fear. 

" Nothing. I am glad to be home." 

He smiled at me as one smiles at a child 
or on one younger than oneself, although I was 
three years older than he, and grew thought- 
ful, like a grown-up person or an old man who 
has great, burdensome old thoughts. 

" Where can one fly to .'* " he asked, shrug- 
ging his shoulders. " Every day, at about 
the same hour, the papers close the circuit, 
and all mankind gets a shock. This simul- 
taneousness of feelings, tears, thoughts, suffer- 
ings and horror deprives me of all stay, and 



THE RED LAUGH 61 

I am like a chip of wood tossing about on 
the waves, or a bit of dust in a whirlwind. 
I am forcibly torn away from all that is 
Ihabitual, and there is one terrible moment 
•every morning, when I seem to hang in the air 
•over the black abyss of insanity. And I shall 
tfall into it, I must fall into it. You don't know 
sail, brother. You don't read the papers, and 
imuch is held back from you — you don't know 
;all, brother." 

I took all his words for rather a gloomy 
joke — the usual attitude towards all those 
who, being touched by insanity, have an 
iinkling of the insanity of war, and gave us 
;a warning. I considered it as a joke, as if 
I had forgotten for the moment, while I was 
splashing about in the hot water, all that I 
had seen over there. " Well, let them hold 
things back from me, but I must get out of 
the bath, anyway," said I lightly, and my 
brother smiled and called my man, and to- 
gether they lifted me out of my bath and 
dressed me. Afterwards I had some fragrant 
tea, which I drank out of my cut-glass tumbler, 
and said to myself that life was worth living even 
without a pair of legs ; and then they wheeled 
me into the study up to my table and I pre- 
pared for work. 



62 THE RED LAUGH 

Before the war I was on the staff of a journal, 
reviewing foreign literature, and now, disposed 
within my reach, lay a heap of those dear, 
sweet books in yellow, blue and brown covers. 
My joy was so great, my delight so profound, 
that I could not make up my mind to begin 
reading them, and I merely fingered the books, 
passing my hand caressingly over them. I 
felt a smile spread over my face, most probably 
a very silly smile, but I could not keep it back, 
as I contemplated admiringly the type, the 
vignettes, the severe beautiful simplicity of 
the drawings. How much thought and sense 
of beauty there was in them all ! How many 
people had to work and search, how much 
talent and taste were needed to bring forth that 
letter, for instance, so simple and elegant, so 
clever, harmonious and eloquent in its inter- 
laced Hnes. 

"And now I must set to work," said I, 
seriously, full of respect for work. 

And I took up my pen to write the heading 
and, like a frog tied to a string, my hand began 
plunging about the paper. The pen stuck into 
the paper, scratched it, jerked about, slipped 
irresistibly aside, and brought forth hideous 
lines, broken, crooked, devoid of all sense. 
And I did not cry out or move, I grew cold 



THE RED LAUGH 63 

and still as the approaching terrible truth 
dawned upon me ; while my hand danced over 
the brightly illuminated paper, and each finger 
shook in such hopeless, living, insane horror, as 
if they, those fingers, were still at the front and 
saw the conflagrations and blood, and heard 
the groans and cries of undescribable pain. 
They had detached themselves from me, those 
madly quivering fingers, they were alive, they 
had become ears and eyes ; and, growing cold 
from horror, without the strength to move or cry 
out, I watched their wild dance over the clean, 
bright white page. 

And all was quiet. They thought I was 
working, and had shut all the doors, so as not 
to interrupt me by any*sound — and I was alone 
in the room, deprived of the power of moving, 
obediently watching my shaking hands. 

*' It is nothing," said I aloud, and in the still- 
ness and loneliness of the studymy voice sounded 
hollow and nasty like the voice of a madman. 
" It is nothing. I will dictate. Why, Milton 
was blind when he wrote his Paradise Regained. 
I can think, and that is the chief thing, in fact 
it is all." 

And I began inventing a long clever phrase 
about the blind Milton, but the words got con- 
fused, fell away as out of a rotten printing frame, 



64 THE RED LAUGH 

and when I came to the end of the phrase I 
had forgotten the beginning. Then I tried to 
remember what made me begin, and why I was 
inventing that strange senseless phrase about 
Milton, and could not. 

'* Paradise Regained^ Paradise Regained," 
I repeated, and could not understand what it 
meant. 

And then I saw that I often forgot very many 
things, that I had become strangely absent- 
minded, and confused familiar faces ; that I 
forgot words even in a simple conversation, and 
sometimes, remembering a word, I could not 
understand its meaning. And I clearly pictured 
to myself my daily existence. A strange short 
day, cut off like my legs, with empty mysterious 
spaces, long hours of unconsciousness or apathy, 
about which I could remember nothing. 

I wanted to call my wife, but could not 
remember her name — and this did not surprise 
or frighten me. Softly I whispered, — 

"Wife!" 

The incoherent, unusual word sounded softly 
and died away without bringing any response. 
And all was quiet. They were afraid of dis- 
turbing me at my work by any careless sound, 
and all was quiet — a perfect study for a savant — 
cosy, quiet, disposing one to meditation and 



THE RED LAUGH 65 

creative energy. " Dear ones, how solicitous 
they are of me ! " I thought tenderly. 

And inspiration, sacred inspiration, 

came to me. The sun burst forth in my head, 
and its burning creative rays darted over the 
whole world, dropping flowers and songs — 
flowers and songs. And I wrote on through 
the whole night, feeling no exhaustion, but 
soaring freely on the wings of mighty, sacred 
inspiration. I was writing something great — 
somethinor immortal — flowers and songs — 

О О 

flowers and songs 



PART II 



PART II 

Fragment X 

Happily he died last week on Friday. 

I say " happily," and repeat that my brother's 
death was a great blessing to him. A cripple 
with no legs, palsied, with a smitten soul, he 
was terrible and piteous in his senseless creative 
ecstasy. Ever since that night he wrote for 
two months, without leaving his chair, refus- 
ing all food, weeping and scolding whenever 
we wheeled him away from his table even for a 
short time. He moved his dry pen over the 
paper with wonderful rapidity, throwing aside 
page after page, and kept on writing and 
writing. Sleep deserted him, and only twice 
did we succeed in putting him to bed for a few 
hours, thanks to a strong narcotic, but, later, 
even a narcotic was powerless to conquer his 
senseless creative ecstasy. At his order the 
curtains were kept drawn over all the windows 
the whole day long and the lamp was allowed 
to burn, giving the illusion of night, while he 

69 



70 THE RED LAUGH 

wrote on, smoking one cigarette after another. 
Apparently he was happy, and I never happened 
to meet any healthy person with such an in- 
spired face — the face of a prophet or of a great 
poet. He became extremely emaciated, with 
the waxen transparency of a corpse or of an 
ascetic, and his hair grew quite grey ; he began 
his senseless work a comparatively young man, 
but finished it an old one. Sometimes he 
hurried on his work, writing more than usual, 
and his pen would stick into the pages and 
break, but he never noticed it ; at such times 
one durst not touch him, for at the slightest 
contact he was overtaken by fits of tears and 
laughter ; but sometimes, very rarely, he rested 
blissfully from his work and talked to me 
affably, each time asking the same questions : 
Who was I, what was my name, and since when 
had I taken up literature. 

And then he would condescendingly tell, 
always using the same words, what an absurd 
fright he had had at the thought that he had 
lost his memory and was incapable of work, and 
how splendidly he had refuted the insane sup- 
position there and then by beginning his great 
immortal work about the flowers and songs. 

"Of course I do not count upon being 
recognised by my contemporaries," he would 



^ THE RED LAUGH 71 

say proudly and unassumingly at the same time, 
putting his trembling hand on the heap of empty 
sheets, *' but the future — the future — will under- 
stand my idea." 

He never once remembered the war or his 
wife and son ; the mirage of his endless work 
engrossed his attention so undividedly that it is 
doubtful whether he was conscious of anything 
else. One could walk and talk in his presence 
— he noticed nothing, and not for an instant did 
bis face lose its expression of terrible tension 
and inspiration. In the stillness of the night, 
when everybody was asleep and he alone wove 
untiringly the endless thread of insanity, he 
seemed terrible, and only his mother and I 
ventured to approach him. Once I tried to 
give him a pencil instead of his dry pen, think- 
ing that perhaps he really wrote something, but 
on the paper there remained only hideous lines, 
broken, crooked, devoid of any sense. And he 
died in the night at his work. I knew my brother 
well, and his insanity did not come as a surprise 
to me : the passionate dream of work that 
filled all his letters from the war and was the 
stay of his life after his return, had to come 
into inevitable collision with the impotence of 
his exhausted, tortured brain, and bring about 
the catastrophe. And I believe that I have sue- 



72 THE RED LAUGH 

ceeded in reconstructing with sufficient accuracy 
the successive feelings that brought him to the 
end during that fatal night. Generally speak- 
ing, all that I have written down concern- 
ing the war is founded upon the words of my 
dead brother, often very confused and incohe- 
rent ; only a few separate episodes were burnt 
into his brain so deeply and indelibly that I 
could cite the very words that he used in telling 
me them. I loved him, and his death weighs 
upon me like a stone, oppressing my brain by 
its senselessness. It has added one more loop 
to the incomprehensible that envelops my head 
like a web, and has drawn it tight. The 
whole family has left for the country on a visit 
to some relatives, and I am alone in the house 
— the house that my brother loved so. The 
servants have been paid off, and only the 
porter from the next door comes every morning 
to light the fires, while the rest of the time I 
am alone, and resemble a fly caught between 
two window-frames,' plunging about and knock- 
ing myself against a transparent but insur- 
mountable obstacle. And I feel, I know, that 
I shall never leave the house. Now, when I 
am alone, the war possesses me wholly and 

' In Russia the windows have double panes during the 
winter for the purpose of keeping out the cold. — Trans. 



THE RED LAUGH 73 

stands before me like an inscrutable mystery, 
like a terrible spirit, to which I can give no 
form. I give it all sorts of shapes : of a 
headless skeleton on horseback, of a shape- 
less shadow, born in a black thundercloud, 
mutely enveloping the earth, but not one of 
them can give me an answer and extinguish the 
cold, constant, blunt horror that possesses me. 
I do not understand war, and I must go mad, 
like my brother, like the hundreds of men that 
are sent back from there. And this does not 
terrify me. The loss of reason seems to me 
honourable, like the death of a sentry at his 
post. But the expectancy, the slow and in- 
fallible approach of madness, the instantaneous 
feeling of something enormous falling into 
an abyss, the unbearable pain of tortured 
thought. . . . My heart has grown be- 
numbed, it is dead, and there is no new life 
for it, but thought — is still alive, still struggling, 
once mighty as Samson, but now helpless and 
weak as a child, and — I am sorry for my poor 
thought. There are moments when I cannot 
endure the torture of those iron clasps that are 
compressing my brain ; I feel an irrepressible 
longingtorun out into the street, into the market- 
place, where there are people and cry out, — 
" Stop the war this instant — or else ..." 



74 THE RED LAUGH 

But what "else" is there? Are there any 
words that can make them come to their 
senses ? Words, in answer to which one cannot 
find just such other loud and lying words ? Or 
must I fall upon my knees before them and 
burst into tears ? But then, hundreds of 
thousands are makino- the earth resound with 

О 

their weeping, but does that change anything ? 
Or, perhaps, kill myself before them all ? Kill 
myself. Thousands are dying every day, but 
does that change anything? 

And when I feel my impotence, I am seized 
with rage — the rage of war, which I hate. 
Like the doctor, 1 long to burn down their 
houses with all their treasures, their wives and 
children ; to poison the water which they drink ; 
to raise all the killed from their graves and throw 
the corpses into their unclean houses on to 
their beds. Let them sleep with them as with 
their wives or mistresses ! 

Oh, if only I were the Devil ! I would trans- 
plant all the horrors that hell exhales on to their 
earth. I would become the lord of all their 
dreams, and, when they cross their children 
with a smile before falling asleep, I would rise 
up before them a black vision. . . . Yes, I 
must go mad — only let it come quicker — let 
it come quicker 



THE RED LAUGH 75 

Fragment XI 

Prisoners, a group of trembling, terri- 
fied men. When they were led out of the train 
the crowd gave a roar — the roar of an enormous 
savage dog, whose chain is too short and not 
strong enough. The crowd gave a roar and 
was silent, breathing deeply, while they ad- 
vanced in a compact group with their hands in 
their pockets, smiling with their white lips as if 
currying favour, and stepping out in such a 
manner as if somebody was just going to strike 
them with a long stick under their knees from 
behind. But one of them walked at a short 
distance from the others, calm, serious, without 
a smile, and when my eyes met his black ones 
I saw bare open hatred in them. I saw clearly 
that he despised me and thought me capable of 
anything ; if I were to begin killing him, un- 
armed as he was, he would not have cried out or 
tried to defend or riofht himself — he considered 
me capable of anything. 

I ran along together with the crowd, to meet 
his gaze once more, and only succeeded as they 
were entering a house. He went in the last, 
letting his companions pass before him, and 
glanced at me once more. And then I saw 
such pain, such an abyss of horror and insanity 



76 THE RED LAUGH 

in his big black eyes, as if I had looked into 
the most wretched soul on earth. 

"Who is that with the eyes?" I asked of a 
soldier of the escort. 

"An officer — a madman. There are many 
such." 

" What is his name ? " 

" He does not say. And his countrymen 
don't know him. A stranger they picked up. 
He has been saved from hanging himself once 
already, but what is there to be done ! " . . . 
and the soldier made a vague gesture and dis- 
appeared in the door. 

And now, this evening I am thinking of him. 
He is alone amidst the enemy, who, in his 
opinion, are capable of doing anything with him, 
and his own people do not know him. He 
keeps silence and waits patiently for the 
moment when he will be able to go out of this 
world altogether. I do not believe that he is 
mad, and he is no coward ; he was the only 
one who held himself with dignity in that group 
of trembling, terrified men, whom apparently 
he does not regard as his own people. What is 
he thinking about? What a depth of despair 
must be in the soul of that man, who, dying, 
does not wish to name himself. Why give his 
name ? He has done with life and men, he 



THE RED LAUGH 77 

has grasped their real value and notices none 
around him, either his own people or strangers, 
shout, rage and threaten as they will. I made 
inquiries about him. He was taken in the last 
terrible battle, during which several tens of 
thousands of men lost their lives, and he 
showed no resistance when he was being taken 
prisoner ; he was unarmed for some reason or 
other, and, when the soldier, not having noticed 
it, struck him with his sword, he did not get up 
or try to act in self-defence. But the wound, 
unhappily for him, was a slight one. 

But, maybe, he is really mad ? The soldier 
said there were many such 

Fragment XII 

It is beginning. When I entered my 

brother's study yesterday evening he was' 
sitting in his armchair at his table heaped 
with books. The hallucination disappeared 
the moment I lighted a candle, but for a 
long time I could not bring myself to sit 
down in the armchair that he had occupied. 
At first it was terrifying — the empty rooms in 
which one was constantly hearing rustlings and 
crackings were the cause of this dread, but 
afterwards I even liked it — better he than some- 
body else. Nevertheless, I did not leave the 



78 THE RED LAUGH 

armchair the whole evening ; it seemed to me 
that if I were to get up he would instantly sit 
down in my place. And I left the room very 
quickly without looking round. The lamps 
ought to have been lit in all the rooms, but 
was it worth while .^ It would have been 
perhaps worse if I had seen anything by lamp- 
light — as it was, there was still room for doubt. 
To-day I entered with a candle and there 
was nobody in the armchair. Evidently it must 
have been only a shadow. Again I went to the 
station — I go there every morning now — and 
saw a whole carriage full of our mad soldiers. 
It was not opened, but shunted on to another 
line, and I had time to see several faces through 
the windows. They were terrible, especially 
one. Fearfully drawn, the colour of a lemon, 
with an open black mouth and fixed eyes, it 
was so like a mask of horror that I could not 
tear my eyes away from it. And it stared at 
me, the whole of it, and was motionless, and 
glided past together with the moving carriage, 
just as motionless, without the slightest change, 
never transferring its gaze for an instant. If it 
were to appear before me this minute in that 
dark door, I do not believe I should be able 
to hold out. I made inquiries : there were 
twenty-two men. The infection is spreading. 



THE RED LAUGH 79 

The papers are hushing up something and, I 
believe, there is something wrong in our town 
too. Black, closely-shut carriages have made 
their appearance — I counted six during one 
day in different parts of the town. I suppose 
I shall also go off in one of them one of these 
days. 

And the papers clamour for fresh troops and 
more blood every day, and I am beginning to 
understand less and less what it all means. 
Yesterday I read an article full of suspicion, 
stating that there were many spies and traitors 
amongst the people, warning us to be cautious 
and mindful, and that the wrath of the people 
would not fail to find out the guilty. What 
guilty, and guilty of what ? As I was returning 
from the station in the tram, I heard a strange 
conversation, I suppose in reference to the 
same article. 

" They ought to be all hung without any 
trial," said one, looking scrutinisingly at me 
and all the passengers. " Traitors ought to be 
hung, yes." 

" Without any mercy," confirmed the other. 
"They've been shown mercy enough!" 

I jumped out of the tram. The war was 
making everybody shed tears, and they were 
crying too — why, what did it mean ? A bloody 



80 THE RED LAUGH 

mist seemed to have enveloped the earth, 
hiding it from our gaze, and I was beginning 
to think that the moment of the universal catas- 
trophe was approaching. The red laugh that 
my brother saw. The madness was coming 
from over there, from those bloody burnt-out 
fields, and I felt its cold breath in the air. I 
am a strong man and have none of those ill- 
nesses that corrupt the body, bringing in 
their train the corruption of the brain also, 
but I see the infection catching me, and half of 
my thoughts belong to me no longer. It is 
worse than the plague and its horrors. One 
can hide from the plague, take measures, but 
how can one hide from all-penetrating thought, 
that knows neither distances nor obstacles ? 

In the daytime I can still fight against it, but 
during the night I become, as everybody else 
does, the slave of my dreams — and my dreams 
are terrible and full of madness 

Fragment XIII 

Universal mob-fights, senseless and 

sanguinary. The slightest provocation gives 
rise to the most savage club-law, knives, stones, 
logs of wood coming into action, and it is all 
the same who is being killed — red blood asks to 
be let loose, and flows willingly and plentifully. 



THE RED LAUGH 81 

There were six of them, all peasants, and 
they were being led by three soldiers with 
loaded guns. In their quaint peasant's dress, 
simple and primitive like a savage's, with their 
quaint countenances, that seemed as if made 
of clay and adorned with felted wool instead of 
hair, in the streets of a rich town, under the 
escort of disciplined soldiers — they resembled 
slaves of the antique world. They were being 
led off to the war, and they moved along in 
obedience to the bayonets as innocent and dull 
as cattle led to the slaughter-house. In front 
walked a youth, tall, beardless, with a long 
goose neck, at the end of which was a motion- 
less little head. His whole body was bent for- 
ward like a switch, and he stared at the ground 
under his feet so fixedly as if his gaze penetrated 
into the very depths of the earth. The last in 
the group was a man of small stature, bearded 
and middle-aged ; he had no desire of resistance, 
and there was no thought in his eyes, but the 
earth attracted his feet, gripped them tightly, 
not letting them loose, and he advanced with 
his body thrown back, as if struggling against 
a strong wind. And at each step the soldier 
gave him a push with the butt-end of his rifle, 
and one leg, tearing itself from the earth, con- 
vulsively thrust itself forward, while the other 



82 THE RED LAUGH 

still stuck tightly. The faces of the soldiers 
were weary and angry, and evidently they had 
been marching so for a long time ; one felt they 
were tired and indifferent as to how they 
carried their guns and how they marched, keep- 
ing no step, with their feet turned in like 
countrymen. The senseless, lingering and 
silent resistance of the peasants seemed to have 
dimmed their disciplined brains, and they had 
ceased to understand where they were going 
and what their Sfoal was. 

" Where are you leading them to ?" I asked 
of one of the soldiers. He started, glanced at me, 
and in the keen flash of his eyes I felt the bayonet 
as distinctly as if it were already at my breast. 

" Go away ! " said the soldier ; "go away, or 
else. ..." 

The middle-aged man took advantage of the 
moment and ran away ; he ran with a light trot 
up to the iron railings of the boulevard and sat 
down on his heels, as if he were hiding. No 
animal would have acted so stupidly, so sense- 
lessly. Bat the soldier became savage. I 
saw him go close up to him, stoop down and, 
thrusting his gun into the left hand, strike 
somethingr soft and fiat with the right one. 

о о 

And then again. A crowd was gathering. 
Laughter and shouts were heard 



THE RED LAUGH 88 

Fragment XIV 

In the eleventh row of stalls. Some- 
body's arms were pressing closely against me 
on my right- and left-hand side, while far 
around me in the semi-darkness stuck out 
motionless heads, tinged with red from the 
lights upon the stage. And gradually the 
mass of people, confined in that narrow space, 
filled me with horror. Everybody was silent, 
listening" to what was beino- said on the stage 
or, perhaps, thinking out his own thoughts, 
but as they were many, they were more audible, 
for all their silence, than the loud voices of the 
actors. They were coughing, blowing their 
noses, making a noise with their feet and 
clothes, and I could distinctly hear their deep, 
uneven breathing, that was heating the air. 
They were terrible, for each of them could 
become a corpse, and they all had senseless 
brains. In the calmness of those well-brushed 
heads, resting upon white, stiff collars, I felt a 
hurricane of madness ready to burst every 
second. 

My hands grew cold as I thought how 
many and how terrible they were, and how far 
away I was from the entrance. They were 
calm, but what if I were to cry out " Fire ! " 



84 THE RED LAUGH 

. . . And full of terror, I experienced a pain- 
fully passionate desire, of which I cannot think 
without my hands growing cold and moist. 
Who could hinder me from crying out — yes, 
standing up, turning round and crying out : 
" Fire ! Save yourselves — fire ! " 

A convulsive wave of madness would over- 
whelm their still limbs. They would jump up, 
yelling and howling like animals ; they would 
forget that they had wives, sisters, mothers, 
and would begin casting themselves about like 
men stricken with sudden blindness, in their 
madness throttling each other with their white 
finders fraorant with scent. The lights would 
be turned on, and somebody with an ashen 
face would appear upon the stage, shouting 
that all was in order and that there was no fire, 
and the music, trembling and halting, would 
begin playing something wildly merry — but 
they would be deaf to everything — they would 
be throttling, trampling, and beating the heads 
of the women, demolishing their ingenious, 
cunning head-dresses. They would tear at 
each other's ears, bite off each other's noses, 
and tear the very clothes off each other's 
bodies, feeling no shame, for they would be 
mad. Their sensitive, delicate, beautiful, 
adorable women would scream and writhe 



THE RED LAUGH 85 

helplessly at their feet, clasping their knees, 
still believing in their generosity — while they 
would beat them viciously upon their beautiful 
upturned faces, trying to force their way 
towards the entrance. For men are always 
murderers, and their calmness and generosity 
is the calmness of a well-fed animal, that knows 
itself out of danger. 

And when, having made corpses of half their 
number, they would gather at the entrance in 
a trembling, tattered group of shamefaced 
animals, with a false smile upon their lips, I 
would go on to the stage and say with a laugh, — 

" It has all happened because you killed my 
brother." Yes, I would say with a laugh : " It 
has all happened because you killed my brother." 

I must have whispered something aloud, for 
my neighbour on the right-hand side moved 
angrily in his chair and said, — 

" Hush ! You are interrupting." 

I felt merry and wanted to play a joke. 
Assuming a warning severe expression, I 
stooped towards him. 

"What is it?" he asked suspiciously. 
" Why do you look at me so ? " 

"Hush, I implore you," whispered I with 
my lips. " Do you not perceive a smell of 
burning ? There is a fire in the theatre." 



86 THE RED LAUGH 

He had enough power of will and good 
sense not to cry out. His face grew pale, his 
eyes starting out of their sockets and almost 
protruding over his cheeks, enormous as 
bladders, but he did not cry out. He rose 
quietly and, without even thanking me, walked 
totteringly towards the entrance, convulsively 
keeping back his steps. He was afraid of the 
others guessing about the fire and preventing 
him getting away — him, the only one worthy 
of being saved. 

I felt disgusted and left the theatre also ; 
besides I did not want to make known my 
incognito too soon. In the street I looked 
towards that part of the sky where the war 
was raging ; everything was calm, and the 
night clouds, yellow from the lights of the 
town, were slowly and calmly drifting past. 

" Perhaps it is only a dream, and there is no 
war.'*" thought I, deceived by the stillness of 
the sky and town. 

But a boy sprang out from behind a corner, 
crying joyously, — 

" A terrible battle. Enormous losses. Buy 
a list of telegrams — night telegrams ! " 

I read it by the light of the street lamp. 
Four thousand dead. In the theatre, I should 
say, there were not more than one thousand. 



THE RED LAUGH 87 

And the whole way home I kept repeating — 
" Four thousand dead." 

Now I am afraid of returning to my empty 
house. When I put my key into the lock and 
look at the dumb, fiat door, I can feel all its 
dark empty rooms behind it, which, however, 
the next minute, a man in a hat would pass 
through, looking furtively around him. I know 
the way well, but on the stairs I begin lighting 
match after match, until I find a candle. I 
never enter my brother's study, and it is locked 
with all that it contains. And I sleep in the 
dining-room, whither I have shifted altogether : 
there I feel calmer, for the air seems to have 
still retained the traces of talking and laughter 
and the merry clang of dishes. Sometimes I 
distinctly hear the scraping of a dry pen — and 
when I lay down on my bed 

Fragment XV 

That absurd and terrible dream. It 

seemed as if the skull had been taken off my 
brain and, bared and unprotected, it submis- 
sively and greedily imbibed all the horrors of 
those bloody and senseless days. I was lying 
curled up, occupying only five feet of space, 
while my thought embraced the whole world. I 
saw with the eyes of all mankind, and listened 



88 THE RED LAUGH 

with its ears ; I died with the killed, sorrowed 
and wept with all that were wounded and left 
behind, and, when blood flowed out of any- 
body's body, I felt the pain of the wound and 
suffered. Even all that had not happened 
and was far away, I saw as clearly as if it had 
happened and was close by, and there was no 
end to the sufferings of my bared brain. 

Those children, those innocent little children. 
I saw them in the street playing at war and 
chasing each other, and one of them was 
already crying in a high-pitched, childish 
voice — and something shrank within me from 
horror and disgust. And I went home ; night 
came on — and in fiery dreams, resembling 
midnight conflagrations, those innocent little 
children changed into a band of child- 
murderers. 

Something was ominously burning in a 
broad red glare, and in the smoke there 
swarmed monstrous, misshapen children, with 
heads of grown-up murderers. They were 
jumping lightly and nimbly, like young goats 
at play, and were breathing with difficulty, 
like sick people. Their mouths, resembling the 
jaws of toads or frogs, opened widely and 
convulsively ; behind the transparent skin of 
their naked bodies the red blood was coursing 



г 



THE RED LAUGH 89 

angrily — and they were killing each other at 
play. They were the most terrible of all that 
I had seen, for they were little and could 
penetrate everywhere. 

I was looking out of the window and one of 
the little ones noticed me, smiled, and with his 
eyes asked me to let him in. 

" I want to go to you," he said. 

"You will kill me." 

"I want to go to you," he said, growing 
suddenly pale, and began scrambling up the 
white wall like a rat — ^just like a hungry rat. 
He kept losing his footing, and squealed and 
darted about the wall with such rapidity, that 
I could not follow his impetuous, sudden 
movements. 

" He can crawl in under the door," said I to 
myself with horror, and as if he had guessed 
my thought, he grew thin and long and, 
waving the end of his tail rapidly, he crawled 
into the dark crack under the front door. But 
I had time to hide myself under the blanket, 
and heard him searching for me in the dark 
rooms, cautiously stepping along with his tiny 
bare feet. He approached my room very 
slowly, stopping now and then, and at last 
entered it ; but I did not hear any sound, 
either rustle or movement for a long time, as 



90 THE RED LAUGH 

if there was nobody near my bed. And then 
somebody's little hand began lifting up the 
edge of the coverlet, and I could feel the cold 
air of the room upon my face and chest. I 
held the blanket tightly, but it persisted in lift- 
ing itself up on all sides ; and all of a sudden 
my feet became so cold, as if I had dipped 
them into water. Now they were lying un- 
protected in the chill darkness of the room, 
and he was looking at them. 

In the yard, behind the house, a dog barked 
and was silent, and I heard the trail of its 
chain as it went into its kennel. But he still 
watched my naked feet and kept silence ; I 
knew he was there by the unendurable horror 
that was binding me like death with a stony, 
sepulchral immobility. If I could have cried 
out, I would have awakened the whole town, 
the whole world, but my voice was dead 
within me, and I lay submissive and motionless, 
feeling the little cold hands moving over my 
body and nearing my throat, 

" I cannot ! " I groaned, gasping and, waking 
up for an instant, I saw the vigilant darkness 
of the night, mysterious and living, and again 
I believe I fell asleep. . . . 

*' Don't fear," said my brother, sitting down 
upon my bed, and the bed creaked, so heavy 



THE RED LAUGH 91 

he was dead. " Never fear, you see it is a 
dream. You only imagine that you were being 
strangled, while in reality you are asleep in the 
dark rooms, where there is not a soul, and I 
am in my study writing. Nobody understood 
what I wrote about, and you derided me as one 
insane, but now I will tell you the truth. I am 
writing about the red laugh. Do you see it ? " 

Something enormous, red and bloody, was 
standing before me, laughing a toothless laugh. 

" That is the red laugh. When the earth 
goes mad, it begins to laugh like that. You 
know, the earth has gone mad. There are no 
more flowers or songs on it ; it has become 
round, smooth and red like a scalped head. 
Do you see it ?" 

" Yes, I see it. It is laughing." 

" Look what its brain is like. It is red, like 
bloody porridge, and is muddled." 

" It is crying out." 

" It is in pain. It has no flowers or songs. 
And now — let me lie down upon you." 

** You are heavy and I am afraid." 

" We, the dead, lie down on the living. Do 
you feel warm ? " 

•' Yes." 

" Are you comfortable ? " 

" I am dying." 



92 THE RED LAUGH 

" Awake and cry out. Awake and cry out. 
I am going away " 

Fragment XVI 

To-day is the eighth day of the battle. 

It began last Friday, and Saturday, Sunday, 
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 
have passed — and Friday has come again and 
is orone — and it is still groino- on. Both armies, 
hundreds of thousands of men, are standing in 
front of each other, never flinching, sending 
explosive, crashing projectiles without stopping, 
and every instant living men are turned into 
corpses. The roar and incessant vibration of 
the air has made the very sky shudder and 
gather black thunderclouds above their heads, 
— while they continue to stand in front of each 
other, never flinching and still killing each other. 
If a man does not sleep for three nights, he 
becomes ill and loses his memory, but they 
have not slept for a whole week and are all 
mad. That is why they feel no pain, do not 
retreat, and go on fighting until they have 
killed all to the last man. They say that some 
of the detachments came to the end of their 
ammunition, but still they fought on, using 
their fists and stones, and biting at each other 
like dogs. If the remnants of those regiments 



THE RED LAUGH 93 

return home, they will have canine teeth like 
wolves — but they will not return, they have 
gone mad and die, every man of them. They 
have gone mad. Everything is muddled in 
their heads, and they cease to understand any- 
thing ! I f they were to be turned round suddenly 
and sharply, they would begin firing at their 
own men, thinking that they were firing at the 
enemy. 

Strange rumours — strangle rumours that are 

о о 

told in a whisper, those repeating them turning 
white from horror and dreadful forebodings. 
Brother, brother, listen what is being told of the 
red laugh ! They say phantom regiments have 
appeared, large bands of shadows, the exact 
copy of living men. At night, when the men 
forget themselves for an instant in sleep, or in 
the thick of the day's fight, when the bright 
day itself seems a phantom, they suddenly 
appear, firing out of phantom guns, filling the 
air with phantom noises ; and men, living but 
insane men, astounded by the suddenness of the 
attack, fight to the death against the phantom 
enemy, go mad from horror, become grey in 
an instant and die. The phantoms disappear 
as suddenly as they appear, and all becomes 
still, while the earth is strewn with fresh 
mutilated bodies. Who killed them .'* You 



94 THE RED LAUGH 

know, brother, who killed them. When there 
is a lull between two battles and the enemy 
is far off, suddenly in the darkness of the night 
there resounds a solitary, frightened shot. 
And all jump up and begin firing into the 
darkness, into the silent dumb darkness, for a 
long time, for whole hours. Whom do they 
see there? Whose terrible, silent shape, full 
of horror and madness appears before them ? 
You know, brother, and I know, but men do 
not know yet, but they have a foreboding, and 
ask, turning pale : " Why are there so many 
madmen .'' Before there never used to be so 
many." 

" Before there never used to be so many 
madmen," they say, turning pale, trying to 
believe that now it is as before, and that 
the universal violence done to the brains of 
humanity would have no effect upon their weak 
little intellects. 

" Why, men fought before and always have 
fought, and nothing of the sort happened. 
Strife is a law of nature," they say with con- 
viction and calmness, growing pale, neverthe- 
less, seeking for the doctor with their eyes, 
and calling out hurriedly : " Water, quick, a 
glass of water ! " 

They would willingly become idiots, those 



THE RED LAUGH 96 

people, only not to feel their intellect reeling 
and their reason succumbing" in the hopeless 
combat with insanity. 

In those days, when men over there were 
constantly being turned into corpses, I could 
find no peace, and sought the society of my 
fellow-men ; and I heard many conversations 
and saw many false smiling faces, that asserted 
that the war was far off and in no way con- 
cerned them. But much oftener I met naked, 
frank horror, hopeless, bitter tears and frenzied 
cries of despair, when the great Mind itself 
cried out of man its last prayer, its last curse, 
with all the intensity of its power, — 

" Whenever will the senseless carnage end ? " 
At some friends', whom I had not seen for a 
long time, perhaps several years, I unexpectedly 
met a mad officer, invalided from the war. 
He was a schoolfellow of mine, but I did not 
recognise him : if he had lain for a year in his 
grave, he would have returned more like him- 
self than he was then. His hair was grey 
and his face quite white, his features were but 
little changed, — but he was always silent, and 
seemed to be listening to something, and this 
stamped upon his face a look of such formid- 
able remoteness, such indifference to all around 
him, that it was fearful to talk to him. His 



96 THE RED LAUGH 

relatives were told he went mad in the follow- 
ing circumstances : they were in the reserve, 
while the neighbouring regiment was ordered 
to make a bayonet charge. The men rushed 
shouting " Hurrah " so loudly as almost to drown 
the noise of the cannon, — and suddenly the 
guns ceased firing, the " Hurrah " ceased also, 
and a sepulchral stillness ensued : they had 
run up to the enemy and were charging him 
with their bayonets. And his reason succumbed 
to that stillness. 

Now he is calm when people make a noise 
around him, talk and shout, he listens and 
waits, but if only there is a moment's silence, 
he catches hold of his head, rushes up to the 
wall or against the furniture, and falls down in 
a fit resembling epilepsy. He has many 
relations, and they take turns and surround him 
with sound, but there remain the nights, long 
solitary nights — but here his father, a grey- 
haired old man, slightly wandering in his mind 
too, helped. He hung the walls of his son's 
room with loudly ticking clocks, that constantly 
struck the hour at different times, and at present 
he is arranging a wheel, resembling an inces- 
santly-going rattle. None of them lose hope 
that he will recover, as he is only twenty-seven, 
and their house is even gay. He is dressed 



THE RED LAUGH 97 

very cleanly — not in his uniform — great care 
is taken of his appearance and he is even 
handsome with his white hair, young, 
thoughtful face and well-bred, slow, tired 
movements. 

When I was told all, I went up and kissed 
his hand, his white languid hand, which will 
never more be lifted for a blow — and this did 
not seem to surprise anybody very much. 
Only his young sister smiled at me with her 
eyes, and afterwards showed me such attention 
that it seemed as if I were her betrothed and 
she loved me more than anybody in the world. 
She showed me such attention that I very 
nearly told her about my dark empty rooms, 
in which I am worse than alone — miserable 
heart, that never loses hope. . . . And she 
managed that we remained alone. 

" How pale you are and what dark rings 
you have under your eyes," she said kindly. 
" Are you ill ? Are you grieving for your 
brother ? " 

" I am grieving for everybody. And I do 
not feel well." 

" I know why you kissed my brother's hand. 
They did not understand. Because he is mad, 
yes.'' 

"Yes, because he is mad." 

G 



98 THE RED LAUGH 

She grew thoughtful and looked very much 
like her brother, only younger. 

" And will you," she stopped and blushed, 
but did not lower her eyes, " will you let me 
kiss your hand ? " 

I kneeled before her and said : " Bless me." 

She paled slightly, drew back and whispered 
with her lips, — 

" I do not believe." 

"And I also." 

For an instant her hand touched my head, 
and the instant was gone. 

" Do you know," she said, " I am leaving for 
the war." 

*' Go.-^ But you will not be able to bear it." 

"I do not know. But they need help, the 
same as you or my brother. It is not their 
fault. Will you remember me ? " 

"Yes, And you.?" 

" And I will remember you too. Good-bye ! " 

" Good-bye for ever ! " 

And I grew calm and felt happier, as if I had 
passed through the most terrible that there is 
in death and madness. And yesterday, for the 
first time, I entered my house calmly without 
any fear, and opened my brother's study and 
sat for a long time at his table. And when in 
the night I suddenly awoke as if from a push, 



THE RED LAUGH 99 

and heard the scraping of the dry pen upon the 
paper, I was not frightened, but thought to my- 
self almost with a smile, — 

" Work on, brother, work on ! Your pen is 
not dry, it is steeped in living human blood. 
Let your paper seem empty — in its ominous 
emptiness it is more eloquent of war and reason 
than all that is written by the most clever 
men. Work on, brother, work on ! " 

And this morning I read that the 

battle is still raging, and again I was possessed 
with a dread fear and a feeling of something 
falling upon my brain. It is coming, it is near ; 
it is already standing upon the threshold of 
these empty, light rooms. Remember, remem- 
ber me, dear girl ; I am going mad. Thirty 
thousand dead, thirty thousand dead ! 

Fragment XVII 
A fisfht is groins: on in the town. 

о о о 

There are dark and fearful rumours 



Fragment XVIII 

This morning, looking through the endless 
list of killed in the newspaper, I saw a familiar 
name ; my sister's affianced husband, an officer 
called for military service at the same time as 
my dead brother, was killed. And, an hour 



100 THE RED LAUGH 

later, the postman handed me a letter addressed 
to my brother, and I recognised the handwriting 
of the deceased on the envelope : the dead was 
writing to the dead. But still it was better so 
than the dead writing to the living. A mother 
was pointed out to me who kept receiving letters 
from her son for a whole month after she had 
read of his terrible death in the papers : he had 
been torn to pieces by a shell. He was a fond 
son, and each letter was full of endearing and 
encouraging words and youthful, naive hopes of 
happiness. He was dead, but wrote of life with 
a fearful accuracy every day, and the mother 
ceased to believe in his death ; and when a day 
passed without any letter, then a second and a 
third, and the endless silence of death ensued, 
she took a large old-fashioned revolver belong- 
ing to her son in both hands, and shot herself 
in the breast. I believe she survived, but I 
am not sure ; I never heard. 

I looked at the envelope for a long time, and 
thought : He held it in his hands, he bought 
it somewhere, he gave the money to pay for it, 
and his servant went to fetch it from some 
shop ; he sealed and perhaps posted it himself. 
Then the wheel of the complex machine called 
" post " came into action, and the letter glided 
past forest, fields and towns, passing from hand 



THE RED LAUGH 101 

to hand, but rushing infallibly towards its desti- 
nation. He put on his boots that last morning, 
while it went gliding on ; he was killed, but it 
glided on ; he was thrown into a pit and covered 
up with dead bodies and earth, while it still 
glided on past forests, fields and towns, a living 
phantom in a grey, stamped envelope. And 
now I was holding it 'in my hands. 

Here are the contents of the letter. It was 
written with a pencil on scraps of paper, and 
was not finished : something interfered. 

" Only now do I understand the great 

joy of war, the ancient, primitive delight of 
killing man — clever, scheming, artful man, 
immeasurably more interesting than the most 
ravenous animal. To be ever taking life is as 
good as playing at lawn-tennis with planets and 
stars. Poor friend, what a pity you are not 
with us, but are constrained to weary away 
your time amidst an unleavened daily existence ! 
In the atmosphere of death you would have 
found all that your restless, noble heart yearned 
for. A bloody feast — what truth there is in 
this somewhat hackneyed comparison ! We 
go about up to our knees in blood, and this red 
wine, as my jolly men call it in jest, makes 
our heads swim. To drink the blood of one's 
enemy is not at all such a stupid custom as we 



102 THE RED LAUGH 

think : they knew what they were doing 

" The crows are cawing. Do you 

hear, the crows are cawing. From whence have 
they all gathered ? The sky is black with them ; 
they settle down beside us, having lost all fear, 
and follow us everywhere ; and we are always 
underneath them, like under a black lace sun- 
shade or a moving tree with black leaves. One 
of them approached quite close to my face 
and wanted to peck at it : he thought, most 
probably, that I was dead. The crows are 
cawing, and this troubles me a little. From 
whence have they all gathered ? 

" Yesterday we stabbed them all 

sleeping. We approached stealthily, scarcely 
touching the ground with our feet, as if we were 
stalking wild ducks. We stole up to them so 
skilfully and cautiously that we did not touch 
a corpse and did not scare one single crow. 
We stole up like shadows, and the night hid 
us. I killed the sentry myself — knocked him 
down and strangled him with my hands, so as 
not to let him cry out. You understand : the 
slightest sound, and all would have been lost. 
But he did not cry out ; he had no time, I be- 
lieve, even to guess that he was being killed. 

"They were all sleeping around the smoul- 
dering fires — sleeping peacefully, as if they were 



THE RED LAUGH 103 

at home in their beds. We hacked about us 
for more than an hour, and only a few had time 
to awake before they received their death-blow. 
They howled, and of course begged for mercy. 
They used their teeth. One bit off a finger on 
) my left hand, with which I was incautiously hold- 
I ing his head. He bit off my finger, but I twisted 
his head clean off: how do you think — are we 
quits ? How they did not all wake up I cannot 
imagine. One could hear their bones crackling 
and their bodies beino- hacked. Afterwards we 

о 

stripped all naked and divided their clothes 
amongst ourselves. My friend, don't get angry 
over a joke. With your susceptibility you will 
say this savours of marauding, but then we are 
almost naked ourselves ; our clothes are quite 
worn-out. I have been wearing a woman's 
jacket for a long time, and resemble more a 
. . . than an officer of a victorious army. By 
the bye, you are, I believe, married, and it is 
not quite right for you to read such things. 
But . . . you understand ? Women. D — n 
it, I am young, and thirst for love ! Stop a 
I minute : I believe it was you who was engaged 
r to be married? It was you, was it not, who 
showed me the portrait of a young girl and told 
me she was your promised bride? — and there 
was something sad, something very sad and 



104 THE RED LAUGH 

mournful underneath it. And you cried. That 
was a long time ago, and I remember it but 
confusedly ; there is no time for softness at war. 
And you cried. What did you cry about ? 
What was there written that was as sad and 
mournful as a drooping flower ? And you 
kept crying and crying. . . . Were you not 
ashamed, an officer, to cry ? 

" The crows are cawing. Do you 

hear, friend, the crows are cawing. What do 
they want?" 

Further on the pencil-written lines were 
effaced and it was impossible to decipher the 
signature. And strange to say the dead man 
called forth no compassion in me. I distinctly 
pictured to myself his face, in which all was 
soft and delicate as a woman's : the colour of 
his cheeks, the clearness and morning freshness 
of the eyes, the beard so bushy and soft, that a 
woman could almost have adorned herself with 
it. He liked books, flowers and music, feared 
all that was coarse, and wrote poetry, — my 
brother, as a critic, declared that he wrote very 
good poetry. And I could not connect all that 
I knew and remembered of him with the cawing 
crows, bloody carnage and death. 

The crows are cawing 

And suddenly for one mad, unutterably happy 



THE KED LAUGH 105 

instant, I clearly saw that all was a lie and 
that there was no war. There were no killed, 
no ''corpses, there was no anguish of reeling, 
helpless thought. I was sleeping on my back 
and seeing a dream, as I used to in my child- 
hood : the silent dread rooms, devastated by 
death and terror, and myself with a wild letter 
in my hand. My brother was living, and they 
were all sitting at the tea-table, and I could 
hear the noise of the crockery. 



The crows are cawing 



No, it is but true. Unhappy earth, it is true. 
The crows are cawing. It is not the invention 
of an idle scribbler, aiming at cheap effects, or 
of a madman, who has lost his senses. The 
crows are cawing. Where is my brother? 
He was noble-hearted and gentle and wished 
no one evil. Where is he ? I am asking you, 
you cursed murderers. I am asking you, you 
cursed murderers, crows sitting on carrion, 
wretched, imbecile animals, before the whole 
world. For you are animals. What did you 
kill my brother for? If you had a face, I 
would give you a blow upon it, but you have no 
face, you have only the snout of a wild beast. 
You pretend that you are men, but I see claws 
under your gloves and the flat skull of an 
animal under your hat ; hidden beneath your 



106 THE RED LAUGH 

clever conversation I hear insanity rattling its 
rusty chains. And with all the power of my 
grief, my anguish and dishonoured thought — 
I curse you, you wretched, imbecile animals ! 

Fragment the Last 

" We look to you for the regenera- 
tion of human life ! " 

So shouted a speaker, holding on with diffi- 
culty to a small pillar, balancing himself with 
his arm, and waving a flag with a large inscrip- 
tion half-hidden in its folds : " Down with the 
war ! 

"■ You, who are young, you, whose lives are 
only just beginning, save yourselves and the 
future generations from this horror, from this 
madness. It is unbearable, our eyes are 
drowned with blood. The sky is falling upon 
us, the earth is giving way under our feet. 
Kind people . . ." 

The crowd was buzzing enigmatically and the 
voice of the speaker was drowned at times in 
the living threatening noise. 

"... Suppose I am mad, but I am speak- 
ing the truth. My father and brother are rot- 
ting over there like carrion. Make bonfires, 
dig pits and destroy, bury all your arms. 
Demolish all the barracks, and strip all the men 



THE RED LAUGH 107 

of their bright clothes of madness, tear them 
off. One cannot bear it. . . . Men are 
dying . . ." 

Somebody very tall gave him a blow and 
knocked him off the pillar ; the flag rose once 
again and fell. I had no time to see the face 
of the man who struck him, as instantly every- 
thing turned into a nightmare. Everything be- 
came commotion, became agitated and howled ; 
stones and logs of wood went flying through 
the air, fists, that were beating somebody, ap- 
peared above the heads. The crowd, like a 
living, roaring wave, lifted me up, carried me 
along several steps and threw me violently 
against a fence, then carried me back and away 
somewhere, and at last pressed me against a 
high pile of wood, that inclined forwards, 
threatening to fall down upon somebody's head. 
Something crackled and rattled against the 
beams in rapid dry succession ; an instant's still- 
ness — and again a roar burst forth, enormous, 
open-mouthed, terrible in its overwhelming 
power. And then the dry rapid crackling was 
heard again and somebody fell down near me 
with the blood flowing out of a red hole where 
his eye had been. And a heavy log of wood 
came whirling through the air and struck me 
in the face, and I fell down and began crawling. 



108 THE RED LAUGH 

whither I knew not, amidst the trampling feet, 
and came to an open space. Then I climbed 
over some fences, breaking all my nails, 
clambered up piles of wood ; one pile fell to 
pieces under me and I fell amidst a cataract of 
thumping logs ; at last I succeeded with diffi- 
culty in getting out of a closed-in space — 
while behind me all crashed, roared, howled 
and crackled, trying to overtake me. A bell 
was rino-inor somewhere ; something- fell with a 
thundering crash, as if it were a five-storey 
house. The twilight seemed to have stopped 
still, keeping back the night, and the roar and 
shots, as if steeped in red, had driven away 
the darkness. Jumping over the last fence I 
found myself in a narrow, crooked lane re- 
sembling a corridor, between two obscure 
walls, and began running. I ran for a long 
time, but the lane seemed to have no outlet : it 
was terminated by a wall, behind which piles 
of wood and scaffolding rose up black against 
the sky. And again I climbed over the 
mobile, shifting piles, falling into pits, where 
all was still and smelt of damp wood, 
getting out of them again into the open, not 
daring to look back, for I knew quite well 
what was happening by the dull reddish colour 
that tinged the black beams and made them 



THE RED LAUGH 109 

look like murdered giants. Mysmashed face had 
stopped bleeding and felt numbed and strange, 
like a mask of plaster ; and the pain had almost 
quite disappeared. I believe I fainted and 
lost consciousness in one of the black holes into 
which I had fallen, but I am not certain whether 
I only imagined it or was it really so, as I can 
only remember myself running. 

I rushed about the unfamiliar streets, that 
had no lamps, past the black death-like houses 
for a long time, unable to find my way out of 
the dumb labyrinth. I ought to have stopped 
and looked around me to define the necessary 
direction, but it was impossible to do so : the 
still distant din and howl was following at my 
heels and gradually overtaking me ; sometimes, 
at a sudden turning, it struck me in the face, 
red and enveloped in clouds of livid, curling 
smoke, and then I turned back and rushed 
on until it was at my back once more. At 
one corner I saw a strip of light, that disap- 
peared at my approach : it was a shop that 
was being hastily closed. I caught a glimpse 
of the counter and a barrel through a wide 
chink, but suddenly all became enveloped in a 
silent, crouching gloom. Not far from the 
shop I met a man, who was running towards 
me, and we almost collided in the darkness, 



no THE KED LAUGH 

stopping short at the distance of two steps 
from each other. I do not know who he was : 
I only saw the dark alert outline. 

"Are you coming from over there .^" he 
asked. 

"Yes." 

" And where are you running to ? " 

"Home." 

"Ah! Home?" 

He was silent for an instant and suddenly 
flung himself upon me, trying to bring me to 
the ground, and his cold fingers searched 
hungrily for my throat, but got entangled in 
my clothes. I bit his hand, loosened myself 
from his grip and set off running through the 
deserted streets with him after me, stamping 
loudly with his boots, for a long time. Then 
he stopped — I suppose the bite hurt him. 

I do not know how I hit upon my street. It 
had no lamps either and the houses had not a 
single light, as ii they were dead, and I would 
have run past without recognising it, if I had 
not by chance lifted my eyes and seen my 
house. But I hesitated for some time : the 
house in which I had lived for so many years 
seemed to me unfamiliar in that strange dead 
street, in which my loud breathing awakened 
an extraordinary and mournful echo. Then I 



THE RED LAUGH 111 

was seized by a sudden wild terror at the 
thought that I had lost my key when I fell, 
and I found it with difficulty, although it was 
there all the time in the pocket of my coat. 
And when I turned the lock the echo repeated 
the sound so loudly and extraordinarily, as if 
all the doors of those dead houses in the whole 
street had opened simultaneously, 

At first I hid myself in the cellar, but 

it was terrible and dull down there, and some- 
thing began darting before my eyes, so I 
quietly stole into the rooms. Groping my way 
in the dark I locked all the doors and after a 
short meditation decided to barricade them 
with the furniture, but the sound of the 
furniture being moved was terribly loud in the 
empty rooms and terrified me. " I shall await 
death thus. It's all the same," I decided. 
There was some water, very warm water in the 
water-jug, and I washed my face in the dark 
and wiped it with a sheet. The parts that 
were smashed galled and smarted much, and I 
felt a desire to look at myself in the looking- 
glass. I lit a match — and in its uneven, faint 
light there glanced at me from out of the dark- 
ness something so hideous and terrible, that I 
hastily threw the match upon the floor. I 
believe my nose was broktn, " It makes no 



112 THE RED LAUGH 

difference now," said I to myself. " Nobody 
will mind." 

And I felt gay. With strange grimaces and 
contortions of the body, as if I were personat- 
ing a thief on the stage, I went into the larder 
and began searching for food. I clearly saw 
the unsuitableness of all my grimaces, but it 
pleased me so. And I ate with the same con- 
tortions, pretending that I was very hungry. 

But the darkness and quiet frightened me. 
I opened the window into ihe yard and began 
listening. At first, probably as the traffic had 
ceased, all seemed to me to be quite still. And 
I heard no shots. But soon I clearly dis- 
tinguished a distant din of voices : shouts, the 
crash of something falling, a laugh. The 
sounds grew louder perceptibly. I looked at 
the sky ; it was livid and sweeping past rapidly. 
And the coach-house opposite me, and the 
paving of the streets, and the dog's kennel, all 
were tinged with the same reddish glare. I 
called the dog softly, — 

" Neptune ! " 

But nothing stirred in the kennel, and near 
it 1 distinguished in the livid light a shining 
piece of broken chain. The distant cries and 
noise of something falling kept on growing, and 
I shut the window. 



THE RED LAUGH 113 

"They are coming here!" I said to myself, 
and began looking for some place to hide 
myself. I opened the stoves, fumbled at the 
grate, opened the cupboards, but they would 
not do. I made the round of all the rooms, 
excepting the study, into which I did not want 
to look. I knew he was sitting in his arm- 
chair at his table, heaped with books, and this 
was unpleasant to me at that moment. 

Gradually it began to appear that I was not 
alone : around me people were silently moving 
about in the darkness. They almost touched 
me, and once somebody's breath sent a cold 
thrill through the back of my head, 

"Who is there?" I asked in a whisper, but 
nobody answered. 

And when I moved on they followed me, 
silent and terrible. I knew that it was only a 
hallucination because I was ill and apparently 
feverish, but I could not conquer my fear, from 
which I was trembling all over as if I had the 
ague. I felt my head : it was hot as if on 
fire. 

" I had better go there," said I to myself. 
" He is one of my own people after all." 

He was sitting in his armchair at his table, 
heaped with books, and did not disappear as 
he did the last time, but remained seated. 



114 THE RED LAUGH 

The reddish light was making its way through 
the red drawn curtains into the room, but did 
not hght up anything, and he was scarcely 
visible. I sat down at a distance from him on 
the couch and waited. All was still in the 
room, while from outside the even buzzing 
noise, the crash of something falling and 
disjointed cries were borne in upon us. And 
they were nearing us. The livid light became 
brighter and brighter, and I could distinguish 
him in his armchair — his black, iron-like 
profile, outlined by a narrow stripe of red. 

" Brother ! " I said. 

But he kept silence, immobile and black, 
like a monument. A board cracked in the 
next room and suddenly all became so extra- 
ordinarily still, as it is where there are many 
dead. All the sounds died away and the 
livid light itself assumed a scarcely perceptible 
shade of deathliness and stillness and became 
motionless and a little dim. I thought the 
stillness was coming from my brother and told 
him so. 

" No, it is not from me," he answered. 
" Look out of the window." 

I pulled the curtains aside and staggered 
back. 

" So that's what it is ! " said I. 



THE RED LAUGH 116 

**CalI my wife; she has not seen that yet," 
ordered my brother. 

She was sitting in the dining-room sewing 
something and, seeing my face, rose obediently, 
stuck her needle into her work and followed 
me. I pulled back the curtains from all the 
windows and the livid light flowed in through 
the broad openings unhindered, but somehow 
did not make the room any lighter : it was 
just as dark and only the big red squares of 
the windows burned brightly. 

We went up to the window. Before the 
house there stretched an even, fiery red sky, 
without a single cloud, star or sun, and ended 
at the horizon, while below it lay just such 
an even dark red field, and it was covered with 
dead bodies. All the corpses were naked and 
lay with their legs towards us, so that we 
could only see their feet and triangular heads. 
And all was still ; apparently they were all 
dead, and there were no wounded left behind 
in that endless field. 

"Their number is growing," said my brother. 

He was standing at the window also, and 
all were there : my mother, sister and every- 
body that lived in the house. I could not 
distinguish their faces, and could recognise 
them only by their voices. 



116 THE RED LAUGH 

" It only seems so," said my sister. 

*' No, it's true. Just look." 

And, truly, there seemed to be more bodies. 
We looked attentively for the reason and 
found it : at the side of a corpse, where there 
was a free space, a fresh corpse suddenly 
appeared : apparently the earth was throwing 
them up. And all the unoccupied spaces filled 
rapidly, and the earth grew lighter from the 
light pink bodies, that were lying side by side 
with their feet towards us. And the room 
grew lighter filled with a light pink dead light. 

" Look, there is not enough room for them," 
said my brother. 

And my mother answered, — 

" There is one here already." 

We looked round : behind us on the floor 
lay a naked, light pink body with its head 
thrown back. And instantly at its side there 
appeared a second, and a third. And the 
earth threw them up one after the other, and 
soon the orderly rows of light pink dead 
bodies filled all the rooms. 

"They are in the nursery too," said the 
nurse. " I saw them." 

" We must go away," said my sister. 

" But we cannot pass," said my brother. 

•' Look ! " 



THE RED LAUGH 117 

And sure enough, they were lying close 
together, arm to arm, and their naked feet 
were touching us. And suddenly they stirred 
and swayed and rose up in the same orderly 
rows : the earth was throwing up new bodies, 
and they were lifting the first ones upwards. 

"They will smother us ! " said I. " Let us 
save ourselves throug-h the window." 

"We cannot!" cried my brother. "We 
cannot ! Look what is there ! " 

Behind the window, in a livid, 

motionless light, stood the Red Laugh. 



THE END 



EDINBURGH 

COLSTON AND COY. LIMITED 

PRINTKRS 



UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA LIBRARY 

Los Angeles 
This book is DUE on the last date stamped below. 



^'^^ 



^Щ tD-m 



ь 



ПГ>-г 



Jbl 04198^ 






Ж 






»>r 



'^~• 



;^^5^ 



t<to 



ftPR 2 2 ША 

APR 

MOV 04100^5 



MAY 011989 
, , ^PR ^5 

NOVO 31389 



CL A?O<0v< 



0АЯШ.1.. 



JUL 05 199^ 



315 



UCSOUTHER'-J R' 



AA 001 344 772 



CLA-Young Research Library 

PG3452 .K86E 

У 



illlllll 

L 009 488 821 1 



^ф' 



^'Xj^jJyi.SfJ't 



L^i^Л'.